For JoAnn Coleman, NW Works’ Client Support Billing Manager, working in finance has been a new curve to a winding career path.
A native of White Post, Va., JoAnn was first introduced to the disability world while working at a daycare center in Frederick County. There she worked with a number of children across a broad spectrum, including children with developmental disabilities. Later on, she would join Frederick County Public Schools, initially as a bus aide and later as a paraprofessional in the Special Education department.
During her twelve years serving as a paraprofessional at Armel Elementary School, JoAnn developed a passion for the population. She would go on to continue her career with the schools for another three years at the Northwestern Regional Educational Program, also known as NREP. There, she worked with students with disabilities from Winchester, Frederick County, and Clarke County.
In 2017, a former NW Works employee convinced JoAnn to apply for a Direct Support Position – where, she says with a laugh, she lasted one day. JoAnn was quickly moved into a newly established position, which would become a Community Engagement Manager. The groundwork of community partnerships were laid by her predecessor, JoAnn says. Once in the position, JoAnn began studying Medicaid funding and putting together the pieces to run a formal Community Engagement program. The program was a hit among service recipients.
“Numbers were growing by the month,” she said. However, in 2019, her father’s health took a turn for the worse and JoAnn wound up trying to run the program from his bedside.
After her father passed away, JoAnn returned to NW Works, at a pivotal point in the company’s existence. Chairman of the Board of Directors Richard Kozlow had stepped in as interim CEO of the company. After observing the organization, he approached JoAnn and asked her to implement a new billing system for the organization. Without a background in finance, JoAnn was uncertain about the offer, but credits Kozlow’s faith in her as a large part of the decision. She became a lynch pin for the organization’s finance team, handling the billing for the organization’s funding sources. She spent a lot of time learning about medical billing and Medicaid as a whole, but says it was worth it.
“Once we were on the right track, there was nobody else who knew it like I did,” JoAnn said. “Our clients will be able to have the best of the best because we’re being fiscally responsible for what we do.”
A large part of her motivation to serve the disability community is JoAnn’s understanding that “we are just one accident away from disability.” And to her, disability takes on a broad scope.
“Disability is not just physical, disability is not just mental, disability is anything that hinders quality of life,” she said. “Disability is so connected to quality of life. And we strive for that. There’s no box you have to check. If you have a low quality of life we have something to help you. That’s why I work here, that’s why I work with this population.”
Having worked with both children and adults with disabilities, JoAnn hopes nondisabled people will learn to see beyond the “dis” in disability.
“I think it’s very comfortable to always revert back to ‘disabled means dis’ – something they can’t do. ‘How can we fix their disability? How can we fix their issue?’” she said. But it’s more important to ask, “Who are you, what do you want, what’s important to you? We’re all the same in that aspect […] We’re really no different than the people we serve.”
When she’s not managing billing, JoAnn finds time for her other great passion in life: interior decorating.
“I make the world pretty,” she laughed. “I am passionate about decorating, creating spaces that are welcoming, calming, exciting – whatever! I help others outside of NW Works with event planning or staging their home. […] To me it’s a form of therapy.”
JoAnn also enjoys spending time with her family: three adult children and her new puppy.