Born in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood and raised in south Tacoma, Jay Thomas has spent more than two decades working in Pierce County nonprofits. In his new role as Group Health Foundation program officer, Jay will serve as an important Foundation representative in the southern Puget Sound area, while championing the priorities of the leaders, organizations, and communities he knows deeply.
Despite pressure early in his career to get a business degree in order to provide for his future family, he opted instead for a career helping the families and children in his own community. Since then, Jay has had nearly every job imaginable in the social service sector, quickly becoming an executive and leader at local institutions like United Way of Pierce County, YMCA of Greater Seattle, Peace Community Center, and Bates Technical College.
“In a 25-year career in nonprofits, I’ve done everything from being a receptionist to being a board member,” says Jay, who will be based out of our Tacoma office when it opens later next year. “Program officer is the only role I haven’t had, which made this opportunity that much more intriguing to me. I see this as a capstone for what I think has been a good and successful career in terms of service. I can’t see into the future, but this feels right.”
When it comes to navigating his professional life, Jay credits the African-American church for shaping his character and identity. As his career progressed and he found himself in increasingly white spaces that diverged from his early experiences in community—which were grounded in truth, honesty, and integrity—he recalls encountering power structures that did not align with those values. He responded by dedicating his energy to relationship building.
“My focus and goal have always been to build relationships with people—even people who didn’t like me, people who thought I was less than or that I didn’t deserve to be sitting at a table,” Jay says. “I have the privilege of being handed a baton that others may not have had the chance to carry. Through good times, through bad times, I’m running the race.”
For Jay, achieving health equity for the state is inseparable from the Foundation’s commitment to its people, partners, and grant recipients. Identifying barriers requires working with local leaders and institutions to remove them, as well as being honest about the barriers Foundation staff face as individuals moving through the world. With the support of an organization committed to reflecting the lived experience of Washington’s communities, Jay is eager to bridge the Foundation with the region he’s called home his whole life. He says the Foundation’s approach to culture building and deepening relationships with grantees lays the groundwork for all future success.
Jay is also a musician and has been playing the piano since age six. In addition to producing music for artists across a range of genres, Jay has produced two of his own instrumental jazz albums. He is a part-time financial coach and loves to travel, solve Sudoku puzzles, and watch sitcoms with his family. Jay lives with his wife of 26 years, and they’ve raised their two daughters in the town of Frederickson.