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Will Cooper – Samaritan Ministries International

Bringing tech to faith-based care during COVID-19

While Job faced harsher trials in the Old Testament, without losing his faith, there’s no doubt Will Cooper was put to the test when he joined Samaritan Ministries International in March 2020.

Will Cooper – Samaritan Ministries International

Will Cooper | Chief Information Officer | Samaritan Ministries International

Not that he didn’t want a challenge. Becoming CIO at the faith-based nonprofit was just the career move he sought because it gave new purpose to the skills he’d developed in more than a quarter century in tech.

But as Cooper arrived in March 2020, planning to assess and improve how technology can serve members of Samaritan Ministries, so did COVID-19. His initial plans are on hold, but seeing people pull together makes him more grateful for joining the nonprofit.

“We’re sharing the burden on all types of medical expenses with each other, and now I’m leveraging technology to help those members share,” Cooper says. “I’m so grateful for guys who trusted my leadership. We made sure we kept our eyes on the prize.”

Directed assistance

Samaritan Ministries was incorporated in 1991 by Ted Pittenger and began sharing funds in 1994 to provide “biblical, affordable health care for the Christian community” without using health insurance, according to its website. Members of the nonprofit ministry send a “share” each month directly to other members in need. The share amount is based on the age and number of participating family members.

Will Cooper – Samaritan Ministries International

Participants must agree to a statement of faith and the sharing guidelines, which encourage members to steward health care costs well, bear one another’s burdens and live a healthy lifestyle.

There are no network restrictions, so members select the provider of their choice. After submitting qualified bills, members receive notes of encouragement and prayer from other members, along with the shares, which they use to pay their medical bills.

Welcome aboard

So much for the 30-day plan. No sooner was Cooper through the door and spending his first two weeks on-site at Samaritan Ministries headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, than he was leading the tech effort to ensure staff could work remotely.

Will Cooper – Samaritan Ministries International

Cooper had expected to get his feet wet by meeting department staff and beginning to assess how IT could better meet and build on the mission. After two weeks, he’d head back to his home in Maryland for a weekend and prepare to make his full-time move to Illinois.

As of mid-June, he had not returned to Peoria, yet he and his IT team have still coordinated the transition to remote work by getting the equipment and infrastructure in place.

Getting connected

It was a secure network already, he adds, with privacy and data protections in place, though the staff rarely worked remotely. So Samaritan Ministries established a task force to address everything needed for the shift, including ensuring member services staff could access multiple digital platforms remotely. Some employees took company equipment to work outside the office and IT staff helped others get set up with personal devices, Cooper explains.

He and his team also worked with Stratus, 8th Light, Presidio and Optiv to improve the digital network and systems, as well as CDW for the hardware and services for the employees. Throw in Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings and calls forwarded from the office to home, and Samaritan Ministries made the shift successfully.

Will Cooper – Samaritan Ministries International

“I was the new guy walking in and I was blessed in having the community of vendors we have and having them step up in an emergency,” Cooper says. “They gave more than 120 percent to make sure we had what we needed, including the guidance to make it all work.”

Though Cooper hoped to be back in the office by the end of June 2020, he predicted some people might want to continue to work remotely because they prefer it.

“It has allowed us to reassess priorities,” Cooper says. “As part of my 90-day plan, I was planning to look at our disaster recovery and business continuity operations, but we’ve been working with that already.”

Skills and faith

Born and raised in South Carolina, his fascination with technology began when he was young, dabbling with vintage home computers such as the Apple IIe, the Commodore 64 or even the Tandy products once sold at Radio Shack.

Cooper earned his bachelor’s in computer science from Livingstone College in North Carolina and, in that time, gained invaluable experience as an intern with AT&T after his sophomore year.

Suddenly it wasn’t just about the tech, it was also about how the tech is applied to deliver business solutions, Cooper recalls. He continued on this path after graduating in 1992, becoming a business systems analyst at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

Will Cooper – Samaritan Ministries International

“It was a huge opportunity to work with some of the smartest people in the world,” he recalls. “I had the chance to see the aspects of tech and the business world, take disparate types of data to create models and help make decisions.”

In 1996 he joined Verizon, which was then becoming a long-distance carrier after the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, where he enjoyed being part of a “big company with a startup mentality.”

After operating his own company providing tech solutions for small and midsized companies for two years, Cooper spent seven years at Unisys and was vice president and senior partner at Amdocs when recruited by Samaritan Ministries. At that time, Cooper, who’s also the former executive pastor at Greater Saint John Church, was looking for a career with a greater purpose.

In his final interview, he was given a copy of “Sharing the Burden: The Samaritan Ministries Story,” by Michael Miller, a book published in January about the history and purpose of Samaritan Ministries. He read it on his flight back and knew he’d found a career home.

“I’m so excited I took the leap of faith and they gave me the chance,” Cooper says. “Samaritan Ministries allows us to draw the best we can do and draw out excellence for our members. I challenge people, even my executive friends, to find your passion and purpose for the benefit and good of the people.”

Published on: July 2, 2020

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