Neighborhood Haven

The first day Julia Oakley moved into the building in Rochester, N.Y.’s Edgerton neighborhood that would soon be the home of her youth outreach center, she knew she was in the right spot.

“Kids were just roaming the streets. They had no safe place to go. There was a girl, she was rolling down the street in a computer chair with wheels, just rolling up and down the street, no adult supervision. It was 6 o’clock in the evening, nowhere to go,” says Oakley, executive director of the youth community outreach center, Agape Haven of Abundance.

A Place to Go

The goal of Agape Haven of Abundance is to support families in one of the city’s most ethnically, linguistically, and racially diverse neighborhoods. They chose the neighborhood to lift the entire community by empowering youth with the confidence, creativity, and academic performance they need to succeed and explore their passions.

“Families were in need of somewhere where they could immerse their kids and receive additional attention,” says Oakley.

Besides offering a safe place to go, Agape provides free services to the Edgerton neighborhood and surrounding local community for its out-of-school and summer programs. Children and youth ages 6-18 get one-on-one attention, mentorship, homework help, meals, and structured activities to build language and financial literacy, as well as mental health, hygiene, and other support services.

Oakley says that the outreach center has been working well for the community. “Rochester is wealthy with resources, but there was a gap where families were not able to have access to those resources, so I see Agape as a hub to provide the community supplemental resources where we are able to refer families to bigger institutions or come here and meet with other families.”

Helping Kids

“This program is really important because it focuses on helping kids, making sure they are behaving, and learning and having fun,” says Veronica Lawson, a teen who has been with Agape since they opened in 2019. “We’re able to go on field trips and see more things in the world, learn new things, the kids learn a lot and ask a lot of questions.”

Veronica volunteers with the younger children at Agape. “I love kids and I love helping them, I have three younger brothers that I take care of with my mom and dad. This helps me focus on teaching kids and helping them grow as children into young adults. It’s a great program.”

Veronica’s mom agrees.  “I like the program, it’s good for the family,” says Essi Lawson.  “The program gives children opportunities by teaching them how to be successful and conduct themselves. She (Veronica) is learning a lot. I’m proud of her and proud of the work she does to be successful for her future.”

Veronica believes her experience at Agape is helping guide her future. She says learning how to communicate with kids is leading her to think about becoming a teacher or working with children. “That’s what I can learn from the experience. It gives me time to be in the community and operate with other people, to be able to share myself.“’

The Future

The experience of others is guiding Agape’s future as well. The number of its program participants are growing.

When Agape first opened its doors, 15 children and youth participated in the out-of-school program, today the number has doubled to 30. Their summer program can accommodate up to 50.

“I don’t ever want to get to a place where we have to close our doors and we can’t serve families,” says Oakley. “Last year we had to turn families away because we didn’t have enough support staff, or we were full to capacity and that broke my heart.”

Community Partnerships

To be able to serve more families, Agape has reached out to community partners and volunteer support. Oakley says having community partners join them and continue what they are doing is vital. “Community partnership is one of our biggest assets and one of the ways we’ve been able to sustain what we have established in this neighborhood,” says Oakley.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is one of those partners. Through a Health Equity Award grant, the health insurer provided funding for Agape’s out-of-school program.

Serving the Community

“Word of mouth that our doors are open and they (families/children) look forward to coming here is just a beautiful thing,” says Oakley. “That’s the beauty of the work I do here, knowing I am able to give them the necessary tools they need to progress and develop.”

Oakley still sees the girl who was rolling down the street in the computer chair on that first day, however now it’s in a different setting. “She was the first one here today – everyday, all the time! When I see things like that, I’m glad we’re open, we’re serving the community, to be the support they need.”

Watch this video to learn more about Agape Haven of Abundance and the impact of its programs.

The Road to Leadership One Step at A Time

“Going to school as an adult, working in the industry that I’m studying in college is a whole different experience than taking courses right out of high school.  I can take the concepts and theories I am learning in the “classroom” and apply those skills to my daily work.  Additionally, it is exciting to understand how the concepts and theories I’m learning about are being applied throughout other departments and the entire organization,” says Kristin Johnston, Team Leader, Client & Provider Services

Company Growth Leads to Educational Growth

Kristin started her career at Excellus BCBS in the customer care department in 2004.  She spent her first three years learning as much as she could about the company and the products we sell. She focused on meeting member and provider’s needs through active listening, having empathy and using her problem-solving skills.

Kristin’s next steps in her career included a position in the Client and Provider Service department, which led to a supervisor position in Provider Relations and now her current role as a team leader.  “When I accepted the supervisor position in Provider Relations, I agreed to go back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree that I had started years before, but had never completed,” says Kristin.  

Employee Development

In 2020, Kristin completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Business, Management and Economics through SUNY Empire State.  The company tuition reimbursement benefit paid for much of her schooling and Kristin credits the program as a perfect way to finance your education while building new skills. 

“The tuition reimbursement program has allowed me to focus on both work and school without worrying about how I was going to pay for it.  I was able to finish my degree more quickly by taking two or three courses a semester rather than paying out of pocket for one at a time,” says Kristin.

In 2021, Kristin was nominated to participate in the accelerated leader program offered by the company. The accelerated leader program helped Kristin to learn about industry trends and best practices while equipping her with new management skills. Her final capstone project focused on recruiting and retaining valuable talent, which sparked Kristin’s interest in Human Resources.  Through SUNY Empire State, Kristin was able to incorporate a graduate certificate focusing on Human Resource Management into her MBA degree and work on both at the same time. Kristin will be completing the graduate certificate in May and the MBA program in December.

Mentorship and Opportunities

Mentoring in the workplace is an established partnership between colleagues for the purposes of learning and growth. There are several different types of mentoring opportunities with the most common being a 1:1 traditional mentorship. 

Kristin credits her first mentor, Susie Hume, VP of Strategy Business Partnerships, with helping her grow both individually and within her role.  Over the course of the relationship, Kristin became a better public speaker, explored career growth opportunities and engaged in open and honest conversations concerning challenges and opportunities.

Kristin also worked on networking and interacting with her peers across the company, which this led to her joining the AVID ERG (employee resource group) and eventually becoming a co-chair.  Involvement in the ERG has led to Kristin broadening her experiences and increasing her knowledge about accessibility and advocacy, while developing deeper relationships with others throughout company and empathy for those dealing with issues related to a disability.

Tools for Success

Kristin credits the training and resources that have been offered by the company with personal and professional growth and developing benchmarks that provide a better sense of professional opportunities.

“The evolution of ongoing resources, such as online LinkedIn Learning, tuition reimbursement and mentorship programs has helped me gain confidence, increase my knowledge, attain goals, and expand my professional network.  All of this has led to a great deal of growth, both personally and professionally,” says Kristin.

To learn more about tuition reimbursement and other benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or

Putting my health at the top of the list

Putting our health and wellbeing at the top of the priority list can sometimes be a challenge.  We often devote so much of our time and energy caring for others that our own wellbeing can end up last on the “to do” list.  This was the experience of Jennifer Maszczak, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield claims examiner.  In her late teens and early 20’s, Jennifer made her health a priority, but after she got married and started a family, maintaining a healthy lifestyle took a backseat to other responsibilities.  Over the years, Jennifer became less active and experienced some unwanted weight gain.

One weekend in 2020, Jennifer was feeling sick.  Her discomfort progressed quickly to severe abdominal pain.  Recognizing this was more than common stomach bug, she went directly to the Emergency Department of her local hospital.  There, she underwent a variety of test including a colonoscopy which uncovered a large tumor that was completely blocking her intestine.  “The doctors informed me that the tumor had been growing for over 6 years,” explains Jennifer.  She was diagnosed with colon cancer and emergency surgery was needed to remove part of her colon.  The surgery was successful in removing the cancer and Jennifer began her journey of recovery.

While a cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery are extremely challenging, Jennifer took hold of this moment and used it as inspiration to reprioritize. “It got me to think, I need to be healthier and start exercising,” says Jennifer.  In the spring of 2021, she started on the path to a healthier lifestyle by joining some of the many virtual fitness classes offered to employees by Excellus BCBS.  The exercise classes, in addition to a weight loss meal plan, allowed her to shed 60 pounds of unwanted weight in 1 year.

“The virtual fitness classes really pushed me to start exercising again,” explains Jennifer.  She participates in a variety of classes, such as circuit training and intervals, conducted by fellow Health Plan employees.  “The instructors are very motivational and upbeat, they are a great bunch of people,” remarks Jennifer. The virtual fitness classes were a perfect fit since she prefers to exercise in the comfort and privacy of her home. “I felt comfortable because I didn’t need to be on camera,” she explains. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to in person fitness classes, especially during the pandemic.”

When she’s not taking part in a fitness class, Jennifer enjoys taking walks with her dogs. Her husband and daughter often join her which provides some extra motivation to keep going.  “I want to be healthy so I can be around to enjoy my family.”

Jennifer’s goal to get back to a more active and healthier lifestyle has not only helped her physically but mentally as well.  “It definitely helps my mental state,” explains Jennifer. “I think because I exercise in the middle of the day, I definitely see an improvement. It gives me more energy.”

As a health plan, Excellus BCBS places a strong focus not only on the health of their members and community but on their employees as well.  “We spend our weekdays caring for each other, our members, and our communities,” said Amanda Shanahan, Excellus BCBS wellbeing manager. “Some of us are also caring for family members and friends. To support others, we need support ourselves.” Because of this, “we care about our wellbeing” has been established as one of the organization’s employee values and behaviors, empowering every employee to incorporate wellbeing into their work and personal lives each day.  

“If we only focus on our own wellbeing when there’s time, there might never be time,” explains Amanda. “Intentionally building wellbeing into your day will help you meet your body’s needs. It could be taking 5-minutes for a personal chat with a co-worker, stepping away for a nourishing lunch, standing and stretching, pausing to take a deep breath, or taking a 15-minute exercise break. Find what works for you!”

Excellus BCBS is proud to offer its employees a variety of wellbeing options including monthly wellbeing challenges and webinars, virtual fitness classes, mindfulness sessions, nutrition sessions, the Calm app, and Guidance Resources – a free, confidential program including counseling, legal and financial guidance.

To learn more about the comprehensive wellness programs offered at Excellus BCBS visit These programs help to create a healthy and motivated workforce, making Excellus BCBS a great place to work!

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or