It’s not every day that a new Vice President role is created at an agency, especially one dedicated to diversity and community. But it’s also not every day you find a person with as much experience and dedication to those topics as Kinzel Thomas.
Kinzel’s inspiration to take on his new role as Vice President of Equity and Community Development at Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI), started early in his life, growing up in a low socioeconomic neighborhood in South Providence and witnessing his community struggle with substance abuse, mental health and access to social determinants of health resources.
“Growing up in South Providence, in an underprivileged neighborhood without resources was challenging. I witnessed individuals struggle with addiction; my neighbor incarcerated to life in prison for drug distribution and conflict with law enforcement. Having a front row seat to this as a youth, motivated me to give back.”
The drug distributor Kinzel lived near was later commuted by President Obama in 2016, in a wave of 330 nonviolent drug crimes overturned in a bid to correct the systemic injustice.
With that childhood experience as his lens, Kinzel started his journey with FSRI in 2014 just after finishing his undergraduate degree. He had a few friends that worked at FSRI, and they encouraged him to apply. Initially, he worked as a Case Manager in the Home Base Department; engaging with Providence youth, through FSRI’s Youth Diversionary Program. It allowed him to provide support to youth who needed it.
“It was an opportunity to support youth that live in my community, facing the same barriers I did,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. It reminded me how resilient our youth are, despite the circumstances.”
He then moved to the Community Health Team, and worked as a Community Health Worker, and moved up to Behavioral Health Clinician, then Clinical Supervisor for the Community Health Team. After earning his master’s degree in Social Work while working full-time, he’s now stepping into his new role as the first-ever VP of Equity and Community Development at FSRI.
“I’m certainly looking forward to FSRI having a greater impact on the communities we serve and continue to push the envelope for equity internally and externally”, he said.
Kinzel says he stays motivated by his own experiences and the agency’s commitment to equity and the belief that we can make change.
“It’s just one of those things that’s embedded in me,” Kinzel said.
Kinzel’s advice to young social workers coming into the field reflects his own determination, resiliency, and love for the role he says is at the heart of all communities.
“Stay the course,” he said. “Someone once told me, social work is one of those professions that you don’t choose—it chooses you. And it’s for a reason. It comes with a lot of challenges, both personally and professionally. But stay the course, the end result will ultimately benefit you personally and the communities you serve. Explore all your options. Don’t box yourself in. FSRI has given me the opportunity to do that.”
In his free time, Kinzel says he is learning to be more mindful of how his time and energy are spent. Things like reading, exercise, and spending time with family and friends keep him grounded in both his home and work life.
“I truly enjoy sharing my experience with others and providing a platform for others to provide resources for each other.”