Client Advocate, Gay Men's Health Crisis
Jill Remmel ’67 has devoted her life to helping and giving a voice to others. In her transformative work as Director of Client Advocacy for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the trailblazing non-profit that provides HIV/AIDS prevention and services, Ms. Remmel expertly guides her clients through the labyrinthine process of obtaining benefits through private health-insurance carriers and public programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Since its founding in 1982, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, GMHC has shifted its focus from desperately trying to keep clients from dying to supporting them throughout their longer lives. For more than 22 years, Ms. Remmel has offered invaluable support and an incredible wealth of knowledge, cementing her remarkable legacy. “I’m a fixture at GMHC. I am going to leave someday, which won’t be good for whoever comes after me.”
With her straightforward, well-informed style that is both compassionate and no-nonsense, Ms. Remmel explains complex information in plain language and tirelessly goes to bat for her clients to make sure they do not lose critical benefits. For people going through stressful events – such as the loss of a job or the death of a spouse – Ms. Remmel is a lifesaver. “I have built up a body of knowledge. My clients respect me. I am direct with them and accept them as they are,” she said.
Instead of applying a “one size fits all” approach, Ms. Remmel treats each client as a distinct individual with a unique set of challenges. She listens carefully and strategizes the best plan of action for each situation. “I love my job,” she exclaimed. “My clients keep me going on a daily basis. I have learned so much from them.”
Growing up on East 84th Street, across from Chapin, Ms. Remmel remembers happy years surrounded by her beloved teachers. “I had friends, access to books and great teachers like Miss Stringfellow, Miss Proffitt and Mrs. Berendsen,” she commented. After Chapin, she attended high school at Garrison Forest, a boarding school for girls in Baltimore, before enrolling at Hollins College, followed by Columbia University for a Master’s in Library Science, although she never worked as a librarian. After an uninspiring stint at a bank, Ms. Remmel took a job in the development office at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Later, seeking a way to make a difference, she applied to volunteer in that hospital’s emergency room, a decision that would change the course of her life.
For 10 years, Ms. Remmel diligently advocated for E.R. patients and their families. With no medical training to speak of, she nonetheless won the trust of patients and hospital staff alike with her proactive, positive presence. “It was an amazing experience,” she declared, an experience that would lead to a more meaningful vocation. Ms. Remmel elaborated: “One day, my husband asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ That’s when I decided to pursue a master’s in healthcare advocacy,” which she received from Sarah Lawrence College.
In 1996, degree in hand, Ms. Remmel started interning in the Health Care Advocacy unit of GMHC. Almost immediately, she knew it was where she belonged, even though, at times, she felt overwhelmed by the tremendous responsibility. “I was tossed into the deep end,” she said, recalling the early years. But she persevered, tailoring a position that elevated her strengths, while providing excellent care to scores of vulnerable individuals. “My job is rewarding beyond belief,” she said. “I am supremely lucky. Most people don’t fall into jobs that suit them to a T.”
Describing her education as “a lovely progression of learning,” Ms. Remmel credits Chapin, which she attended from first through ninth grade, for nurturing her and providing the encouragement she needed to discover her authentic self. “I was an idiosyncratic individual and I was accepted as I was at Chapin,” she stated, readily acknowledging the momentous role the School played in shaping the woman she became. “I’ve made my future with the support of Chapin and my family,” she reflected. “I had security thanks to Chapin, and I was fortunate to grow up with agency.”
- Alumnae Profiles