The days can be long and her schedule unrelenting, but Nicole Love Hendrickson doesn’t mind.
As the first African-American chairperson of the Gwinnett County Commission, she’s used to breaking barriers, managing expectations and juggling obligations, while also responding to a host of questions, comments and the occasional complaints. Though it can be challenging and demanding, there’s also a humbling reward nestled in the work as she strives to better her community.
“The truth is – this career chose me,” Love Hendrickson (MSW ’07) said about her passion for public service. “For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to helping others. In fact, many people who have faced adversity in their lives are typically drawn to the helping profession.”
She grew up in a single-parent household with a mother who battled addiction issues, which often led to her moving from home to home and living in shelters. Recognizing that this was not a life that any child should be forced to live, she committed herself to making a difference – both in her own personal journey and for the countless others she sought to help.
After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Rhode Island, she worked as a guidance counselor in the Baltimore public school where she had to wear many hats. The challenges evident in the system – ones that necessitated her supporting children and their families with access to jobs, food assistance, mental health support and more – led her to seek a graduate degree in social work at the University of Georgia.
Love Hendrickson said her time at the School of Social Work gave her the skills and training needed to provide steady, visionary leadership to Gwinnett County.
“Every single course that I took in my two-year master’s program prepared me for this work,” she said. “Whether it was in Policy, Community Assessments, or Understanding Diversity, they all provided foundational understanding of macro-level social work. The more courses I took, the more I realized that I made the right decision, and it was exactly where my passion lied. It has also opened my mindset into the world of possibilities of social work as a profession in almost any sector you can think of.”
Prior to her election to the role of chair, she served as the founding director of the Gwinnett County Community Outreach program where she was responsible for engaging diverse constituents throughout the local government. She also was the associate director of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services.
And as she did in her roles prior to serving in elected office, her focus today is on ensuring Gwinnett County continues to move forward and spread prosperity to more diverse groups, including marginalized communities that long have been at a disadvantage. Providing them with increased access to housing, healthcare, jobs and training, education and more is central to her mission to create more opportunities for her constituents.
She noted the community is embarking on an all-encompassing equity and disparities study to provide a benchmark of where Gwinnett County is and determine the best path forward.
“We are moving in the right direction, and we are beginning to see some moderate changes with how we govern as a county,” Love Hendrickson said. “The goal is to create a government that works for everyone, and we had to build a new foundation of where we are today. It’s amazing how our employees, who many are part of the old regime, have embraced the new leadership and new way of thinking. They are the ones now helping to lead and drive the decisions and being more inclusive in their process.
“We are on the right path, and we will continue to be the county who reflects the community we are today and in the future.”