STLCC Helps Alumna Find Path to Help Others
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Julie Garner wasn’t going anywhere; not anywhere she wanted.
While she had higher aspirations than the job she held, her prospects for a career she’d find gratifying appeared limited at best if not completely nonexistent.
She knew she wanted more, so despite having a young family that included two small children, Garner – now Julie Erickson – returned to college and enrolled at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley. Nearly 30 years later, she’s president and CEO of Rx Outreach, a non-profit organization that provides affordable medication to people in need.
The journey started with that decision in 1990, when at the age of 22 she went back to college. She tried a four-year university, but it wasn’t the right fit. STLCC was.
“It was near my home,” Erickson said. “It was an opportunity for me to continue my education even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I could kind of try things and explore my interests. I was married and had two children, so the flexibility was really important as well.”
Erickson eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix in her 30s, and her MBA from Washington University in St. Louis when she was 41 years old. Each subsequent degree helped Erickson move a bit higher in her pursuit to serve others in a career committed to the non-profit sector.
Erickson’s first position in a nonprofit was at Life Skills Foundation, now Easterseals Midwest, where she served people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. She then spent 10 years at Epworth, an organization that serves youth exiting foster care, who have run away from home or were without homes.
It was the experience at Epworth that led Erickson in 2013 to Rx Outreach, where she is now serving her second stint.
At Epworth, Erickson worked to find clothes and food, secure apartments and get job skills training for her clients. What she continuously struggled with, however, was obtaining medication that many of her clients needed.
“It was so frustrating to me. I’d pay for some of the kids’ meds myself,” Erickson said. “If you have a teenager with bipolar disorder, it doesn’t matter what skills you teach them, they’re not going to be successful if they don’t have the proper medication. I saw Rx Outreach as helping fill that gap.”
The Key to Success
Erickson would never have had an opportunity at Rx Outreach if not for her education. She talks regularly about the importance of investing in yourself and in those around you. Education has proven invaluable in her career and instrumental in finding personal satisfaction from her work.
It was an underlying thread within her family as she raised her daughter, Samantha Garner, who is now an attorney, and son, Steven Garner, a lab manager at a company that tests the efficacies of therapeutics before they head to the trial stage.
Steven Garner, who was a toddler when his mom went to STLCC but a teen when she worked on her bachelor’s and began her master’s degrees, said his mom set the expectation that a higher education was essential not only through words, but also through actions. He said she always put her kids first, helping them with homework or going to their events. After the house settled, she’d go to the computer to start on her college work.
She did all of this while holding down a full-time job.
“It’s insane,” he said. “She’s a very hard worker and definitely did everything she could to support us and support herself too.”
Samantha Garner echoes her brother’s sentiment. They also both said that their mom’s work ethic rubbed off on them as they got through college and in the early parts of their careers.
“She is so driven, she has goals and she sticks with them,” said Samantha, who is a consultant with Deloitte. “I thankfully have a lot of that myself. I have that drive. I am just grateful for all she did.”
The ‘It’ Factor
Dennis Jenkins, now the chief operating officer at Caritas Family Solutions in Belleville, Ill., said he knew Erickson had the makings of something special the first time he met her at Life Skills.
Jenkins was the human resources director and taught the organization’s behavior modification class for those who worked directly with clients. The morning after he held a class for Erickson and others, he told a colleague he met someone who had a chance to do great things and go far.
It was Erickson.
“I saw a drive to understand and to get it right and to make a difference,” said Jenkins, who attended STLCC-Forest Park in the 1980s. “I remember when she got her MBA, she kind of wrestled with moving into the corporate world. She decided the satisfaction of working non-profit was more valuable for her.
“I think she made the right choice,” he added. “She makes a big difference in peoples’ lives and she continues to do so.”
Walking the Path
Erickson is the first in her family to have a bachelor’s and the first to have a master’s degree. She is tied for first to earn a college degree.
Erickson enrolled at STLCC-Florissant Valley at about the same time as Muriel Scarborough, a St. Louis County employee who, like Erickson, found her career stalled by a lack of a secondary education. Wanting more, Scarborough went to school and graduated at the same time as Erickson – her granddaughter.
The school allowed the two women to walk across the stage one after the other. Erickson said knowing that her grandmother, who was in her 60s when she graduated, wanted more for herself was motivation to achieve more as well.
“It showed me that it’s never too late. I had a non-traditional path, a very non-traditional path,” Erickson said. “She showed me that it’s never too late to get an education and to pursue your dreams.
“That’s a really great memory. The pride I had for her,” Erickson added. “It could be scary going back to school. I can’t explain the pride I had for her determination and wanting to be like her.”
Erickson was recruited to join Rx Outreach in 2013 to serve as its first development director. She spent five years creating relationships and seeking funding to help the organization begin to realize its potential to serve thousands of people across the nation.
After a three-year stint with another nonprofit, she was brought back in July 2021 as Rx Outreach’s president and CEO. Erickson attempts to give the organization’s 43 employees a personal greeting every day – a small example of how she works to empower each person to achieve more for themselves and more for their customers.
Erickson believes the more her employees grow, the more they’ll be able to better serve others. It has been the common thread in her life since she chose St. Louis Community College.
Now with Rx Outreach, she’s trying to make life a bit easier for her customers.
“People should never have to choose between food and medicine,” Erickson said. “It happens all the time, unfortunately. Especially now with the cost of food going up and gas going up and everything going up. People who are on a fixed income, they can’t make more money. It’s got to come out of somewhere. So, people cut their pills in half, they take them every other day, they wait a few weeks in between filling them. That’s why Rx Outreach is so critical – we help people get medicine.”
Erickson said Rx Outreach's commitment is to support not only the people it serves, but also to the people who serve.
“My commitment is not only to the people who need medications, but how do we help people working in the non-profit sector reach their full potential as well,” she said.