When Jamie Reynolds moved to Gainesville 15 years ago, she couldn’t believe what she found.
The registered nurse, wife and mother had lived in six states, but had never seen a school quite like Challenged Child and Friends.
Reynolds was recently named the new executive director and chief executive officer of Challenged Child and Friends, a nonprofit early learning and intervention center for children with disabilities and their typically developing peers. She will officially begin in the position Monday.
“Challenged Child and Friends has always been on my radar,” Reynolds said. “I’ve always had the highest respect and regard for it as an institution.”
Cathy Drerup, longtime executive director of the nonprofit and current interim executive director, said she looks forward to Reynolds’ work in the position.
“I am on fire about her passion,” Drerup said. “I know that she is going to represent the children, the families and the mission. That’s going to be at the top of her heart as she guides people on how to help us, as she engages people in our mission and seeks the resources we need.”
Reynolds has a medical background with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Georgetown University, where she also taught physical assessment at the School of Nursing.
She comes to Challenged Child and Friends after serving as the development and marketing director at Lakeview Academy. She previously served on the board at Lakeview, as well as the WomenSource and American Cancer Society boards.
“I wore a lot of hats at Lakeview,” she said. “I really am grateful to Lakeview, which kind of gave me the professional training and confidence to combine my nursing background and my school-development background. When I heard about this opportunity I thought, ‘This might be a good fit for my crazy skill set.’”
Her maternal instincts also motivated her to join Challenged Child.
She started JGR LLC, a sudden infant death syndrome initiative to help promote the importance of babies sleeping on their backs, after she and her husband had a child die of SIDS.
“Our next two children required cardiac monitoring,” she said. “I had nowhere for my children to go to school, nowhere to drop them, no infant room, no place. When we moved to town 15 years ago and I took a tour of Challenged Child, I was amazed this place existed.”
Drerup said Reynolds’ combination of skills and experience make her well-suited to lead the nonprofit school.
“She’s obviously very competent and experienced in resource development, marketing and matching the mission to the work and the outcomes,” Drerup said. “She has proven leadership and proven results in areas that are important to a large nonprofit like ours.”
As Reynolds begins Monday, Drerup will resume a part-time schedule, working as volunteer coordinator through the end of the school year and supporting Reynolds’ transition into the position.
“A big part of what I’ll be doing initially is providing her with resources, tools and information that can help her go forward, as well as help with any leadership transition for us as we finish out the school year,” she said.
Reynolds already has plans for changes to Challenged Child, including some expanded hours. Currently, the school is open 7:30 a.m. to about 5:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. The new hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“With the hospital being our largest employer, we felt we were eliminating a huge market by starting so late,” she said. “A lot of health care professionals need to be at work at 7, as do teachers. We felt we were really not serving our population. And the people who would really want and understand the integration of a typical and atypical child would be health care professionals and teachers.”
Otherwise, Reynolds said she plans to help Challenged Child focus on its mission.
“We are going to be an incredible school,” she said. “We are not a day care. We are a SACS-accredited school, which takes a ton of time and programmatic excellence to reach that level. And we will maintain our excellence.”