Josh Gillman started out wanting to work in international management, but an experience serving kids opened a whole different world to the Iowa native.
“When I was in college, I took a part-time job working in an after-school program,” he said.
“I had no real intention of staying in this field long term, especially locally, with an international studies interest.
“But working with kids in that space, just on a part-time basis, I found I really enjoyed it. I saw there was a need for impact locally, not just internationally. I kind of fell into it by accident, but once I connected to the work and saw the impact that it had and the need that’s there I never left.”
Over the next 15 years, Gillman devoted himself to serving youth and their families, the last eight as COO for Kids Can Community Center. He said his time there has been a daily exercise in leadership and program improvement. Under Gillman’s direction, the reach of the organization has grown substantially, bringing after and out of school programming to six locations in Omaha.
“I think the biggest piece of what we’ve done in my time here would be our program expansion,” he said. “When I came here as the chief operating officer, we had our community center and one school-based program serving about 300 kids per day. Now, almost eight years later, we have nine different programs serving almost 1,300 kids a day.
“Just knowing that there’s an extra roughly 1,000 kids per day in our community who are in a safe, supportive environment where they can grow and develop is probably the thing that I’m most proud of.”
This year will mark another landmark accomplishment — the completion of a new and expanded community center, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, providing more room to carry out the mission.
“That was a big accomplishment not just for myself, but for the whole team here,” he said.
“We did a capital campaign and building design, and we’ll be able to move into a facility that will double our scope from our current center, providing a higher quality learning environment.”
Looking to the Future
Such advancements are key to fulfilling Kids Can going forward, especially given the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the unstable economy.
“One of the things that I do really love about this role is that I can get out and visit programs whenever I want,” he said. “I’m never too far away from being able to get out and visit programs and see staff on the front lines doing amazing work and getting to spend some time with students and being near families. That’s an important piece that keeps me engaged in the work.
“Because of that, one thing I’ve learned and as a team what we will continue to learn, is as we transition out of the pandemic and COVID, there’s this need to do a lot of building up of students and families. Not only in lost learning time, but social and emotional skills as well.
“We have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to get kids caught up to where they need to be, both academically as well as preparing to interact with each other and the world and move forward.”
In addition to his undergraduate degree, which he earned at University of Nebraska at Omaha, Gillman also has a master’s degree in public administration from Bellevue University. He has also completed several prestigious leadership programs, including the Leadership Omaha Class 43, National Institute on Out-of-School Time Research Fellow and TEAMS Executive Leadership Graduate and Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute.