The opportunity to engage in youth sports shaped Sherice Perry’s entire life.
She didn’t receive formal training in the sports she loved until she went to middle school, where the combination of sports and education showed her that when people are given an opportunity, their potential is limitless.
“I love that sports help shape young people, building character and leadership skills,” says Sherice, a Vice President at Spitfire. “Sports taught me about the importance of work ethic and discipline, on setting your sights on a goal and working toward achieving it.”
“It’s always been really important to me that people have the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. Health is essential to that.”
As a result, Sherice’s entire career has been centered on healthy equity. She served two secretaries at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) as director of specialty and broadcast media in the Public Affairs Office before joining Spitfire, where a commitment to creating opportunities through health equity extends across all of her work.
Case in point: one of her current projects is a collaboration between Georgia Shape, which is an initiative of the Governor’s office, and the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation. The project focuses on changing middle school girls’ mindsets about exercise — encouraging them to think exercise is cool so they do more of it throughout their lives.
With support from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the project partners are looking for strategic ways to encourage middle school girls to be physically active at an age when many of them drop out of athletics. Spitfire is leading the team in conducting research with experts, local partners and students to gain insights into middle school girls’ interests and behaviors. Then the project team will develop action plans that motivate girls to become and stay active.
For the Women’s Sports Foundation, Sherice is helping the organization develop communications that align with their new strategic plan, which centers on research, advocacy and community impact. Spitfire is working with WSF to develop and implement a communication strategy that gets the word out about their mission, which is to strengthen and expand opportunities for all women and girls to participate in all sports, at all levels.
Not surprisingly, Sherice is part of Spitfire’s work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is the country’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to building a Culture of Health. She’s part of the team working on the RWJF Strategic Communications Training Program, which Spitfire has led for 12 years. The interactive training program gives RWJF grantees the insights, skills and tools needed to use strategic communications to achieve their project goals and make a more significant impact through their work.
Sherice is also part of the RWJF Connect Project, which builds and strengthens RWJF’s grantees’ relationships with members of Congress and other policymakers. Spitfire coaches grantees so they can talk more effectively about health and health care programs with their legislators, helping them understand the challenges their communities face — and the solutions they can provide. Recently, Sherice accompanied Culture of Health prize winners from Wisconsin to Capitol Hill to talk to their legislators about how their community uses existing resources to improve everyone’s health.
“Giving our clients tools, resources and bench strength feels a lot like my work in the Obama administration,” Sherice says. “Given the challenges of the current political environment, it’s never been more important.”
As Sherice says, there’s a lot more work to do if everyone’s going to have a fair shot at being healthy.
“Everyone gets sick at some point, and having access to high-quality health care and medication when you need it shouldn’t bankrupt you or your loved ones. Having a pre-existing condition shouldn’t prevent someone from doing great things,” Sherice says. “Recently, I was in Portland and met a single mom who has the peace of mind knowing she and her son are covered under ‘Obamacare.’ Moments like this reinforce why I do the work I do.”
Sherice’s work leverages her experience engaging local communities in the fight for health equity and justice. At HHS, Sherice developed deep expertise in identifying how to reach people where they are with the information they need to take action.
“When I think about helping my clients with media relations, it’s never just about getting a story placed — it’s about getting the community involved,” she says. “Awareness isn’t enough. You have to help people understand what’s at stake and give them the tools to engage.”
That’s one reason that doing more work with faith communities is on Sherice’s professional bucket list. She says faith communities were instrumental in preventing the repeal of the ACA and she considers them a powerful voice in today’s political discourse.
Whether she’s working directly on a sports-related initiative or helping grantees of RWJF fulfill its mission of building a Culture of Health, Sherice places great value in motivating others to aim high.
“My entire career has focused on leveling the playing field,” Sherice says. “When the opportunity is there, everyone has the potential to thrive and achieve great things.”