In Gwinnett, cultural traditions and business practices from around the world blend to create one of the strongest local economies in the state of Georgia. As the most diverse county in the southeastern United States, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners led by Chairman Charlotte Nash, saw the opportunity to establish the county’s first outreach program. The community outreach program is designed to engage residents of all backgrounds to be more involved in the Gwinnett’s mission to build a more unified community. The initiative to unify a global community of more than 900,000 residents required a forward-thinking leader who took creative measures when addressing inclusion and diversity. In early 2015, County leaders found these transformative leadership qualities in Nicole Hendrickson. This is our conversation with Nicole:
Q. What’s your role at Gwinnett County Government?
Nicole: I serve as the Gwinnett Community Outreach Program Director and was appointed to this role in January of 2015. I facilitated the launch of the County’s first comprehensive outreach program.
Q. Tell us more about Gwinnett Community Outreach:
Nicole: Community Outreach is a forward-thinking initiative created by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, specifically Chairman Nash. This community initiative was inspired to engage communities, citizens and partnerships to restore and build sustainable solutions that enhance the quality of life for all who live work and play in Gwinnett. With its rich multicultural diversity, Gwinnett has a tremendous opportunity to be a trendsetter in bridging ties among our diverse citizens in the County. The intended goal is to commission collective and positive exchanges within our community through outreach programs, events and sustaining initiatives.
Q. Tell us a more about your background?
Nicole: I am originally from Providence, Rhode Island, and was a resident all the way through undergraduate school, where I received my degree from the University of Rhode Island. I came to Georgia in 2005 for graduate studies at the University of Georgia focusing on social work, non-profit management and community planning. I have been a Gwinnetian since 2006.
Prior to my role with Gwinnett County Government, I served as the Associate Director of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services for eight years. Since coming to Gwinnett I have seen a great deal of success because of my body of work. For example, as the Program Director of Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute, I have empowered hundreds of citizens to affect behavioral change that impacted communities in areas of quality of life, non-profit, special causes, politics and government, law enforcement, economics and environmental concerns to name a few. To date, graduates of my program serve as CID Directors, business owners, market executives, clergy and community leaders; some launching sustainable community initiatives and impacting policy decisions
Q. What led you to Gwinnett and the role you have today?
Nicole: The opportunity was created by Chairman Charlotte Nash. The role and position aligned very closely with what I was already doing at the Coalition and I felt I could take on the new challenge of designing the County’s citizen engagement platform because of my background and experience.
Q. What does a typical day look like for you?
Nicole: No day is ever identical. I could have a day where I start at an offsite community planning meeting before heading to give a presentation to a business or stakeholder group, then to working with internal departments to discuss best practices with engaging diverse constituents. On the other hand, there are days, where I focus on the administrative aspect of my job which includes coordinating and implementing the many programs I oversee such as the Citizens Academy, the Gwinnett Youth Commission, Dinner & Dialogue and multiple cultural events. Essentially, a majority of my time is spent interacting and engaging with the public.
Q. Who or what inspired you to be who you are today?
Nicole: My daily inspiration comes from the local thought leaders who I interact with. They give credence to the notion that one person can make difference. I also pay homage to the many women leaders who have been in the public eye for many years, they inspire me every day. Women like Ellen Gerstein, founder of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services; Ms. Robbie Susan Moore the founder of the United Ebony Society; Beauty Baldwin, the first African American Superintendent for Buford City Public Schools, and Charlotte Nash, Chairman of the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners. These trailblazers demonstrated the vision, passion and commitment to their respective causes. I am also driven by my desire to emulate as I grow in my capacity to be an effective leader and community advocate and blaze the trail for those who will come after me.
Q. Do you have a philosophy you live by? If so, what is it?
Nicole: Yes, I have many! But the most important that drives my decision making is asking myself:
• Does it align with my personal and professional goals?
• Will it help my family or my community?
• Will I grow as a person as a result?
• Will it compromise my values?
I can make sound decisions once I’ve answered each of these points. It keeps me grounded and focused on my mission in both work and life.
Q. Where is your favorite place to go or favorite thing to do in Gwinnett?
Nicole: I love dining in Gwinnett. With our rich cultural diversity, we have so many options to explore other countries from around the world without ever having to leave the county.
Q. In your opinion what makes Gwinnett great?
Nicole: Gwinnett has a history of strong leadership. We would not be the great County we are today if it were not for the leaders who paved the way, made bold decisions and continued to sustain Gwinnett’s legacy.
Q. Finish this statement: You’re one of the few people you know who: is sought after for expertise on diversity and inclusion in Gwinnett. And I own it!
Q. What’s next for the Gwinnett County Community Outreach? Any major initiatives, plans, and ideas for 2018?
Nicole: As Gwinnett celebrates 200 years this year, my goal is to ensure that in addition to celebrating our rich history, we are also celebrating who we are today and who we will be in the next 200 years. I am tasked with creating opportunities to cultivate and celebrate the new pioneers, business leaders and communities who are continuing Gwinnett’s’ rich legacy of making this a great place to live work and play.