“Jesse is awesome.”
The Jesse in question is Jesse Guercio. He can be found rehabilitating the Baltimore house where he grew up, when he’s not biking, hiking, backpacking, camping or rock climbing. He’s a Certified Wilderness Medic who might like to live in a Yurt on land in Maryland.
But the quote here, from Leadership Essentials Vice President of Programs Laurie Remer, refers to the professional Guercio. Remer has seen Guercio’s talents close up, first when he was a participant in Leadership Essentials’ class of 2009, and later in his role as an active member in the organization, both as co-chair of the Coaching Committee and as a member of the Recruitment & Selection Committee.
She’s also seen him in action as a fellow board member and committee colleague at the Association of Community Services (ACS). Her statement is about someone who is making a difference, both for individuals and within the broader Howard County community.
Guercio has a long-term interest in mental health issues, and holds a B.A. in Psychology from UMBC. He is program manager for the Mental Health Department at Humanim, where he’s worked for 10 years, starting while he was still in college.
What does a program manager for Humanim do? In Guercio’s case that means overseeing the organization’s mental health residential programs. Their focus is on adults with chronic and persistent mental illness. The goal: helping these individuals develop the skills to return to life in the community through residential, then independent, living.
It means 58 staff people in his area and 170 clients. Guercio is the go-to guy to solve problems big and small.
Solving a problem can be as simple as reassuring a worried client that an absent staff member will get a piece of information. It also can be as complicated as setting up a base center at the Humanim office and driving around Columbia in an old jeep with a torn roof and no heat during Snowmageddon in 2010, ensuring that anxious clients in Humanim’s houses and apartments had food and heat, received their medicines, and simply were OK at a time when roads were impassable and people — including staff — were confined to their homes.
Is he successful at his work? In 2009 he was Humanim’s Employee of the Year.
So what has his Leadership Essentials experience added? When a vice president at Humanim suggested he take the course, Guercio knew almost nothing about the program, but the concept of leadership was something in which he’d been interested.
“I didn’t really have an understanding of what I was getting into,” he said.
But if he didn’t know what to expect going in, Guercio took what the program had to offer in spades — and has incorporated it into his work, professional life and outside interests. It was, he said, “life-changing.”
What was life-changing about the program? First was the self-reflection that is a critical element of the Leadership Essentials. The program’s Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) and 360 Appraisal provided such useful insights into his personality, management style and problem-solving approaches that he’s using them with his Humanim staff.
Equally valuable: the coaching aspect of the program. Ron Nicodemus of the Nicodemus Communications Group was Guercio’s coach, and they have remained close. Having someone listen, ask the tough questions and help him create an internal self-awareness was, Guercio said, “very empowering.” Guercio is now becoming a coach himself, and also is using the new skills in his job.
“Learning to be a coach is teaching me to be a better supervisor, “he said.
Nicodemus noted that “all of Jesse’s skills were always inside him.” Awareness came with the process. Of the months they worked together, Nicodemus said, “I saw an enormous transformation in the way he was thinking about certain challenges; the way he was analyzing, being proactive, being a manager, growing confidence in the steps he was taking. How to think ahead, plan and deal with challenging situations. What he needs to do to bring people along.”
That ability to “bring people along” is a special gift that Remer has also noted in her interactions with Guercio, both in Leadership and ACS.
The Other Side
But apart from self-awareness, perhaps the most important change for Guercio was how he sees his community involvement. He’s been involved in the Maryland Child Identification Program (CHIP) and Maryland Search and Rescue, is a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and has been a team captain for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk since 2009.
Today, in addition to direct service, Guercio is engaged in the “other side” of volunteer and community service. He’s serving on organization boards and committees as a way to make broad changes that can affect programs and direct services throughout the community. This involvement not only benefits the community, but has opened doors that have opened other doors.
The Association of Community Services, where he serves as co-chair of the Communications Committee, as a member of the Education and Training Committee and on the board of directors, was one of his post-Leadership community involvements. Why ACS? “I can help more people by helping the helper,” he said.
Joan Driessen, ACS education and training coordinator, concurred. “Jesse is an invaluable member of our committee, helping us to develop programs that are both timely and relevant and to promote them in ways that reach a broader audience,” she said.
And the future?
“Jesse is a humanitarian,” said Nicodemus. He sees Guercio’s future as being in a significant leadership position in a human services organization or doing something that particularly interests him that he’ll start on his own.
Right now, the 30-year-old Guercio is busy with his work, and trying to decide his future path. Should he go to medical school — a life-long ambition? Or is another path better? Will it be one that incorporates what he’s learned: about teaching people, being involved in the broader community and utilizing the administrative skills he’s discovered he enjoys and is good at? Time will tell.
Whatever Guercio chooses, chances are the results will be awesome.