Jerry Askew never planned to stay in Knoxville for long. “I expected to stay here three or four years and move on,” he says. “I got married. We had some babies. And before you knew it, it was home.” For the community, it has been a fortuitous turn. Originally moving to Knoxville in 1985 to accept a position at the University of Tennessee as the Dean of Students, Jerry found more than a few reasons to stay. Dedicated to the welfare of his fellow citizens, he has committed himself to service, now as the president of the Alliance for Better Nonprofits and as a deacon in his church.
Born and raised in a small town in North Carolina, he nonetheless found himself surrounded by good teachers and a supportive structure encouraging him to branch out and succeed. This good fortune continued on to college where Jerry met the man that would spur him towards his current path. Dr. Donald E. Harris, affectionately referred to as “Doc,” was Jerry’s fraternity advisor while he studied at UNC, but the impact he had on his life would extend much further. “He was one phone call away,” he says. “He was always there for you.”
The kindness that he saw in Doc inspired him to do his best to help others. “I’m the beneficiary of great grace,” he says. “You can’t earn grace by definition. I just try to express my gratitude by doing for others what’s been done for me.”
So far, it seems that Jerry has made good on that promise. Having served on the boards of over 40 nonprofits, his current work with the Alliance for Better Nonprofits allows him to help others better serve the community. By offering crucial resources and uniting those with a spirit for service, the organization streamlines the work done by nonprofits in the community. “Nonprofits are corporations,” he says. “They have a different tax structure from for-profit corporations, but they are corporations. So the idea was, from a donor community, to help them to be more effective so that we can continue to support them and make a difference.”
In the four years that the Alliance has been operating, they’ve done much to follow through. “We identified 27 different groups that were serving refugees and brought them together to organize themselves so they could have a common vision,” Jerry says. “They could identify what resources were already there and identify gaps in services. Then, they could work together to fill those gaps.” By making a concerted effort, he is optimistic about the strides that Knoxville’s nonprofits can make in the coming years.