Sarah Gray has been executive director of the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center free clinic for only six months, so she says it's early days for determining what's not broken and doesn't need to be fixed and what falls into a different category.

However, the Pennsylvania native said last week she did see some immediate needs for changes and has instituted them, including a new and updated website for the nonprofit and an improved method for communicating with patients who speak limited or not English.

"There were certain key pieces of information missing on our old website," Gray said of the update to helpinghandsfreeclinic.org.

As for the other issue, Gray said she was able to obtain a grant to contract with Martti, a Northland-based organization founded in 2003 that was formerly known as the Language Access Network.

Martti can provide interpreting services in more than 250 languages.

Gray became executive director of Helping Hands, based at the Haimerl Center on Morse Road, on Jan. 2. She succeeded Noreen Palmer, who left the position in the middle of last year. Palmer was only the second executive director in the free clinic's history, having taken the job in June 2016 following the retirement of Joyce Bourgault, who founded Helping Hands in 2007.

The new kid on the block is already a hit with some of the staff members.

"I'm excited to work with her," said Steve Thompson, director of administration and a volunteer at the clinic from practically its inception. "She brings her excitement to the clinic. She has new ideas, modern ideas."

"I think she's great," said Kyle Kerley, director of nursing for more than two years. "She does a great job of keeping communication lines open."

Gray grew up in Harrisburg, the Keystone State's capital, and admits she didn't really know what she wanted to do with her life when she graduated from high school.

She enrolled at Lafayette College, a liberal arts institution in Easton, Pennsylvania, that her parents had attended.

Although she didn't have a specific career goal in mind, Gray said she knew from the time she was little that she wanted to be on the nonprofit sector.

"It just felt like a natural fit," she said.

Gray also leaned toward something in the medical arena because she watched a brother deal with Cushing's Disease, a serious condition involving tumors on the pituitary gland.

Her first job after graduating from Lafayette was with a small nonprofit that helped homeless young people in poverty in Philadelphia.

Gray and her engineer husband, Michael Gaykowski, moved to Columbus in 2015 after he got a job with Worthington Industries.

"Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect," Gray recalled. "I had never been to Columbus before I brought all our stuff here."

In 2016, after being able to qualify for in-state tuition, Gray enrolled at Ohio State to purse a master's degree in public administration with a focus on nonprofit management.

She graduated in December and began sending out emails to different free clinics in central Ohio, and got a response from a Helping Hands board member.

"Working in a free clinic is like a dream job of mine," Gray said.

"I call it blind networking. I find of fell into the job, and I feel blessed and lucky. I'm still doing a lot of learning in the role."

Gray, who said she enjoys the patient contact afforded by being with such a relatively small nonprofit, hopes to make Helping Hands a bigger operation.

"I would love to grow the clinic even more," she said. "I really enjoy what I do and the team here is very valuable and phenomenal."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1