Spotlight: Jana Ruth Lewis Harkins, CPA – Fighter for Nonprofits

By Linh M. Sasser, Communications Coordinator, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits

Soon after I accepted the communications coordinator position at Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, I quickly realized Jana Ruth Lewis Harkins, director of shared services, may be one of the most interesting people I have met in my life. As I look through her Facebook, I see her profile picture is one of her during her younger years. She tells me it now hangs in a museum.  Her cover photo is of her and President Obama when he visited Oklahoma in 2007, and her Facebook feed is filled with various political figures, her vast community involvement and her extensive, close-knit family.

As I get to know Jana, I forget that she grew up in a different era. It was even considered that she has a place and a certain level of expected success – simply because she is a woman. I am reminded that a woman of her age had to constantly fight oppression to gain the respect and adoration that she receives from many people in the community.

Jana’s family has a strong influence on her. Her family has always been very active in the community. “If you are not active in the community, you do not care,” said her grandfather. Jana’s mother told her when she was younger to study keyboarding, there will always be jobs available to her if she did. At the time the only computer-related classes available were in accounting, a traditionally male field. Jana said when she discovered how much accountants made, she understood why it was considered a male position.

Jana attended college for three semesters before she had to find work to live. She found a job working for an attorney. He did not treat her very well and decided the position was not a good fit for her. She soon found a position as mail clerk with Southwestern Bell (now AT&T). During the early years at AT&T, it was hard for women to obtain positions that were considered male positions. It was the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1965 and the consent decree with AT&T that quickly followed, that allowed Jana to pursue a traditionally-male position.

“EEOC, the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice and AT&T, the nation’s largest private employer, sign a landmark consent decree to eliminate discriminatory recruiting, hiring and promotion practices against women and minorities. “ – EEOC website

With the signing of the consent decree, Jana seized the opportunity to utilize the tuition program offered at AT&T. She encouraged her female coworkers to follow suit – many did not. In 1972, Jana was accepted to Oklahoma City University where she was one of two women in a 23-person accounting program. She not only received her bachelor’s in accounting from OCU, but also her Master’s in Business Administration.

After many years with AT&T, Jana took a position as corporate accounting manager with Mills Biopharmaceuticals, LLC. She said the offer was too good to refuse. She continued with Mills until her position was relocated to Seattle, as she was experiencing health-related issues that would take her out of the workforce.

Regardless of health concerns, Jana would not give up her community involvement. She stayed active in the community and co-hosted “In the Know with Jana Lewis Harkins and Ronald ‘Skip’ Kelly,” a weekly, talk-radio show that discussed current affairs, politics and community events. “In the Know” allowed Jana to advocate for building stronger communities and her passion for nonprofits grew stronger.

Deciding, in 2015, to return to the workforce, Jana knew she wanted to work for OKCNP. She said she remembered when Pat Potts started The Support Center of Oklahoma, which would later become OKCNP. She loved the idea of helping nonprofits become successful. Though she did not receive an offer for the first position for which she applied, Jana was able to join the OKCNP team in November 2015 as Director of Shared Services.

It is hard to believe that Jana is approaching her two-year anniversary with OKCNP from the way her clients greet her. The few I have met have greeted her with a smile and tales of family trips and work anecdotes, as if they have been long-time friends. When I had the opportunity to ask Dixie Jackson, Employee Advocacy Coordinator for Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA), she stated they been in the red for a while, but with the help from Jana, Shared Services Accountant Meagan Gill and Shared Services Coordinator Erin Webb, OPEA is now in the black.

“This is the best thing we have ever done” said Jackson. “Jana and her team get to know not only our practices, but our humanity and our purpose. We should have started this process over 30 years ago.”

Keep Oklahoma Beautiful, OKCNP’s newest shared services client, is a small three-person office and does not have the budget to support a full-time accountant or bookkeeper. The nonprofit has only been a client for a few months, but again, you would never know. Executive Director Jeanette Nance greeted Jana with a hug and they spoke as if they have been friends for years. Nance could not stop talking about how much of an asset OKCNP’s shared services team has been, since utilizing them.

“Erin and Jana ensure we are keeping track of expenditures,” said Nance. “They work side-by-side with our team as if we are one organization.”

Jana hopes with her position she will be able to help more nonprofits save money through sound organizational practices, development of policies and procedures and accurate financial reporting.

Jana is and will always be a fighter for nonprofits, because it is in her blood. As her grandfather said, “If you are not active in the community, you do not care.”

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