At 31, Jerry Harrell Jr. has an impressive résumé: a Southern University Law School graduate with a marketing and business management degree and six years of service with the Louisiana Air National Guard.
But after being chosen recently by Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears and the Jefferson Community Foundation to work on social issues from within the Woodmere subdivision in Harvey, the West Bank native will be drawing from a deeper foundation to help 13,000 residents organize to improve life in one of the state’s largest subdivisions.
“I’m a Christian man, a husband and a father,” Harrell said on a recent drive through the streets of the neighborhood he and his family have called home for just under three years. “Every decision I make, everything that I do will most likely be affected by one of those three factors or a combination of the three.”
Harrell created Renew Woodmere LLC and has been on the job for only a couple of weeks. He declined to speak in detail about specific ideas or programs just yet, but he said crime prevention, public health, blight, employment and civic engagement will be key areas of focus.
The idea for the position came about eight months ago from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the parent of the Jefferson foundation, and it is funded for two years at $60,000 a year, half from the foundation and half from the parish.
Spears said $50,000 will go to Harrell’s salary each year, with the remaining $10,000 for supplies and other necessary expenses.
Spears said he met Harrell by chance this summer and thought that his qualifications, which include mentoring and volunteering with his church group, and the fact that he lives in Woodmere made him the right fit for the new job.
“My biggest thing was I wanted someone from Woodmere,” he said. “It’s hard for someone to say what your community needs when they don’t live in the community.”
Harrell, who has lived in Westwego, Avondale and Harvey, moved to Woodmere in 2011 with his wife, a nurse; they were joined six months ago by a newborn son.
Spears said Harrell “definitely cares about the community and has a track record of service. That’s why it just made sense.”
Harrell said he’ll be working not just with Spears’ office but with any of the agencies within parish government that can help him to better meet the needs of Woodmere’s residents.
On a Friday afternoon stop at Woodmere Park, the future home of a new community center that will likely house his office, Harrell took down the phone number of a Woodmere resident who complained the lights at the park don’t work, making it unsafe for residents to go there at night.
Harrell said Renew Woodmere will have a website up soon, and he’s already begun coming up with specific programs that will make use of community assets such as Woodmere Elementary School and the park.
He said he sees his selection as a chance to fulfill his goal of having a job that gives back to the community.
“I’m big on discipline, I’m big on honesty and being truthful in everything that I do. And I think all of these things made a perfect storm and it just worked out for me,” he said. “I trace it back to my faith. I just believed it would happen, prayed about it and worked toward what I had to do, and the opportunity presented itself to me. And I’m going to capitalize and I’m going to make it bigger than what they have planned, I hope.”