Jennifer Ethridge named new president, CEO of Nazareth Child & Family Connection

Published 1:58 pm Friday, May 19, 2023

ROCKWELL — Jennifer Ethridge has been named the new president and CEO of Nazareth Child & Family Connection.

She will replace Vernon Walters Jr., who will retire May 31 after leading Nazareth for 24 years.

Ethridge, who has been Nazareth’s human resource director since 2007, will assume her new position on June 1.

“It’s a bittersweet time,” said Ethridge said in a news release. “We don’t want to see Vernon leave; it’s hard to watch him leave, but I am looking forward to this new opportunity.

“I see it as an opportunity to build on everything Vernon has done here and continue to help Nazareth move forward and to help the community in any way, shape or form that we can, to have that impact on the community.”

Ethridge has been involved in residential services since arriving in North Carolina after college graduation in her hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

“When we first came to North Carolina, I applied to an ad in the paper for a residential counselor. I don’t think I knew what I was getting into,” recalled Ethridge. “We really don’t have group homes in Canada like here. I started that job, and I loved it. I loved working with the kids and seeing their progress.”

It was that passion along with her depth of experience that made Ethridge the choice of Nazareth’s board of directors to replace Walters. Prior to coming to Nazareth in 2007, Ethridge had worked in direct care for residential services, case management and as a residential director at American Children’s Home in Lexington.

“Jennifer has been with us for 18 years. I think we are very fortunate to have someone of her caliber and experience on staff able to step in and take over,” said Gene Miller, chairman of Nazareth’s board of directors, which was charged with selecting a new president and CEO. “I’m looking forward to working with her. It is position she deserved and has earned.”

Ethridge understands there will be challenges in her new position, that Nazareth isn’t immune to some of the same problems facing employers everywhere and that the landscape of residential childcare is constantly changing.

“Definitely one of the biggest challenges is staffing. Finding the right counselors to work with the kids and the clinicians to work with them,” said Ethridge. “There are a lot of changes in childcare in North Carolina right now. It’s all something Vernon has been working hard on and it’s something we need to continue to navigate.

“There are a lot of moving parts to keep up with, but we have the right team in place to respond to those challenges.”

Members of the Nazareth team have no doubt she is up to the challenge.

“Jennifer understands what it takes to keep everything moving smoothly here. She’s been here for a long time, and she has a great feel for everything and everybody,” said Hugo Crigler, Nazareth’s director of development. “I believe it’s going to be a very smooth transition and Jennifer will keep Nazareth headed in the right direction.”

Ethridge received a bachelor of arts in sociology and cultural anthropology from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, and a master’s degree in public affairs with a concentration in nonprofit management from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

If you would like more information about giving or volunteering at Nazareth, contact Hugo Crigler, director of development, at 704-279-5556 ext. 1113 or by emailing