The Nell J. Redfield name is well known throughout Northern Nevada, and deservingly so. The woman behind the name, Nell Redfield, committed her life to charitable giving. Equally devoted to the community are those who shared in the noble mission with Redfield. Attorney Gerald “Jerry” Smith helped Nell establish the Nell J. Redfield Foundation in 1974 and served as Executive Director and President for the next almost 30 years. After the death of Redfield in 1981, Smith carried on the foundation legacy of far-reaching support for education, health care, aid to women and children in need, and care for those struggling with secure housing among other causes.
"I truly feel the honor of Jerry passing the Redfield baton to me. Jerry was an incredible person with a good sense of humor. He was caring, dedicated, hard-working, and deeply committed to many of the non-profits in the Reno community. He had the ability to ask tough questions to foster the growth and improvement of Redfield partner agencies. I am honored and humbled that Jerry asked me to assume this role.”
After battling a terminal illness, Jerry Smith passed away on March 30, 2023. Before Smith passed, he made a final request that Kenneth Coll, Ph.D., would step into the role of the Foundation’s executive director, continuing to advance the Redfield Foundation’s impact. Coll, the former dean of the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education, was inspired by the Foundation while at the University and joined Smith as a consultant and project partner when he retired from the dean’s position in June of 2019. When Smith was in hospice, he asked Coll to take over, and on June 1, 2023 the Redfield Board officially named Coll as executive director of the Redfield Foundation.
“I truly feel the honor of Jerry passing the Redfield baton to me,” Coll said. “Jerry was an incredible person with a good sense of humor. He was caring, dedicated, hard-working, and deeply committed to many of the non-profits in the Reno community. He had the ability to ask tough questions to foster the growth and improvement of Redfield partner agencies. I am honored and humbled that Jerry asked me to assume this role.”
Coll, who like Smith has a sense of humor and a commitment to doing good in the Reno community, first became aware of the Redfield Foundation when he started his role as dean of the College of Education in 2013.
“When I first walked into the Raggio building, I looked to my right and saw the Nell J. Redfield Learning Resource Center,” Coll said. “I entered the Center and was very impressed. At that moment I decided I'd like to meet the person responsible for funding the Center. I contacted the Nell J. Redfield Foundation, and Jerry was happy to meet with me. I remember at the first meeting, in true Jerry fashion, he asked, ‘What's your vision? What do you want to accomplish?’”
Coll shared with Smith his hopes of supporting students who may not have had the same educational opportunities as their peers, helping them with mentorship, financial support and even supporting them in navigating the college entrance process. From this first meeting with Smith and several that followed, the Redfield Foundation helped provide support to strengthen the College’s Dean’s Future Scholars program. To date, the program has served over 1,500 low-income, first-generation college students in Washoe County. The program follows students from 5th grade through middle school and high school and empowers them to achieve their higher education dreams.
In the years that followed their initial meeting, Smith would lean on Coll for his knowledge and background as a counselor, an educator, a researcher, and a former university administrator. The two shared a deep commitment to supporting those in need. The Redfield Foundation provided the opportunity to realize that mission.
Projects funded by the Redfield Foundation that both Smith and Coll collaborated on include everything from the significant and ongoing contributions to women’s athletics to the recently established Gerald “Jerry” Smith Academic-Practice Partnership with Renown and Orvis School of Nursing which will provide scholarship funding for up to 24 nursing students each year.
“How do we retain professionals in our community?” Coll said. “This was something that Jerry was very concerned about, especially in healthcare and mental health where there are enormous worker shortages. Jerry masterfully worked with other funders to address this issue.”
The Redfield Foundation significantly helped fund the construction of the three-story Northern Nevada HOPES building on 5th Street, and more recently, Coll notes that Smith was instrumental in spearheading the new expansion of the facility. Additionally, the Redfield Foundation has provided over $500,000 in support of a new facility for Note-Able Music Therapy which provides music therapy and adaptive music experiences for people of all ages with developmental delays, sensory impairments, autism, traumatic brain injuries, dementia, mental health and addiction issues and physical disabilities.
The list goes on. The number of ways the Redfield Foundation, Smith and now Coll have supported and continue to support the greater Reno community is difficult to quantify. As Coll steps into the role as executive director, he hopes to build on this impactful legacy, following in Smith’s footsteps.
“For Jerry, it wasn't about just funding a program and stepping away,” Coll said. “He was engaging with the program directors, providing ideas and encouragement to help foster program success.”
Coll brings to Redfield experience working with a wide range of non-profit organizations, analytical skills from his work as a prolific published researcher, a robust understanding of wellness and mental health and competence in helping programs attain success in meeting their mission. Coll has worked with groups such as STEP2, the Eddie House and Boys and Girls Club in developing strategies for successful program implementation. His award-winning research focuses on school and mental health risk and resilience factors as well as effective assessment and counseling interventions with struggling adolescent populations. As an educator, Coll is deeply invested in many of the programs and organizations funded by the Redfield Foundation.
Coll will continue to ask the tough questions and provide encouragement, as Smith did, teasing out new opportunities for helping those in need and leading those projects toward success. The Redfield Foundation is in good hands.