Board of Directors; and a consultant to the YMCA’s national
African American and Hispanic/Latino Health and Well-Being
Collaborative, designed to address specific health issues facing
African American and Latino communities, to name a few.
In all of these roles, her advocacy skills — which she often
applies to helping underserved clients gain better access to
care — have been key to her success. She’s so adept at it, in
fact, that when she finished her term as GPA president in 2000,
association leaders asked her to stay on as its grassroots and
federal advocacy coordinator, and she’s remained in the federal
aspect of that role ever since.
“If I can get policymakers to listen to and understand my
points, then perhaps they’ll take action in areas that will truly
make a difference in people’s lives,” says Kelly, who has spoken
with legislators about mental health parity, eliminating health-care disparities and ensuring psychologists are appropriately
compensated by Medicare.
Soon after becoming GPA president, she was nominated for
Leadership Atlanta. Each year, the group selects 75 community
leaders from diverse disciplines and political bents to explore
key issues in the Atlanta community and examine what it
means to be a leader. They also connect with Georgia legislators,
which has given Kelly the opportunity to spread the word about
psychology, sometimes in informal, collegial settings. Last year,
two state legislators called her unexpectedly to have dinner so
they could chat about topics of importance to psychologists,
and she has a strong working relationship with the office of U.S.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), for example.
“Advocacy is about building relationships with people you
know can make a difference,” says Kelly, who chaired Leadership
Atlanta’s Health Program Day for three years. That takes time
and getting beyond the superficial, she says. “My feeling is, ‘I
want to sit down and get to know you because I want to talk
about what’s happening in our community, in our country,
in the world.’ Then I want to break it down to what it is that I
am trying to do, which is to make sure that people who need
mental health services have access to good care.”
Kelly succeeds with legislators not only because she spends
time with them, but also because of her warm, funny, down-to-
earth personality, colleagues say. Georgia state Rep. Pat Gardner,
who was executive director of GPA when Kelly first joined the
organization as a member, says it didn’t take much effort to see
that Kelly was a natural leader. “I’d introduce her to people and
her energy and enthusiasm were infectious,” she says.
Her motives are altruistic and people sense that, adds
University of Georgia professor Linda Campbell, PhD, who
was president of GPA when Kelly was secretary. “Jennifer
consistently contributes to and cares about things that are above
and beyond her own self-interest,” Campbell says.
She is also famously tenacious about her agenda. “It’s said