Making Community Service A Career Path
BY JACLYN JEFFREY-WILENSKY
For Roger Milliner, one of the PRESS of Southeast Queens’ 2018 Ambassadors for Change honorees, community service is a full-time job—and he likes it that way.
His dedication to serving his community drew him to MetroPlus Health Plan, where he has worked for 20 years.
“Helping people, especially people in the inner city, and serving as a community service worker in my role, is probably what mainly attracted me to doing this type of work,” Milliner said in a recent phone conversation.
As deputy executive director of marketing, Milliner spends his days figuring out how best to educate New Yorkers about their low- or no-cost health insurance options. And, he says, that’s just one of his responsibilities.
“It goes beyond just signing them up for insurance,” Milliner explained. “I’m helping people learn about their insurance options and navigate the healthcare system. And I’m connecting them to various social service programs, connecting them to medical care.”
In a linguistically and culturally diverse city such as New York, that’s no easy feat. And Milliner, a Brooklyn native, said that Queens presents unique challenges for his industry.
“Queens is just a melting pot of diverse cultures,” Milliner said. “That makes it challenging and exciting at the same time. I have to staff to those needs, I have to develop marketing materials.”
In Queens alone, Milliner said, MetroPlus serves print ads in nine different languages. He added that the rewards of his work are worth the effort.
“It’s very gratifying to know that you’re part of helping communities live longer, be healthier,” he said. “We change the lives of people. That’s very rewarding.”
Milliner’s commitment to New Yorkers doesn’t stop when he leaves MetroPlus for the day. On nights and weekends, you can catch him leading history tours with the Black Gotham Experience or mentoring young adults, both at MetroPlus and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I’m taking on a role of mentoring young people who are coming up,” he said. “They’re trying to understand how to navigate through a professional business organization, how to work in corporate, what are the challenges that you face coming into your first job and how to approach the corporate world.”
Milliner recently spoke on this subject for an audience of 200 young black men.
“I talked about my early years—how, as a black person, because I knew my worth in the industry, I was still able to stay true to who I was,” he said. “I was the youngest person on executive staff, and the only black person on the executive staff group. What I did was let my work speak for itself.”
Milliner sees Black History Month as a great opportunity to have these kinds of conversations.
“Black History Month needs a platform, so that the culture is maintained, and so there’s a platform to discuss the African experience,” he said. “Without there being a dedicated month, where do these things get highlighted? We have a month where things can be celebrated. And Black History Month brings out a lot of education that people don’t get necessarily in school.”
When he’s not visiting local MetroPlus offices, lobbying for healthcare causes in Albany, speaking with community organizations, teaching people about African Americans’ contributions to colonial New York or mentoring young people, Milliner—who lives in New Jersey—spends time with his family—his wife Aisha, daughters Jasmine and Alaysia, son Roger, Jr. and newborn granddaughter, Mackenzie.
When asked about his Ambassadors of Change award, Milliner replied, “It’s extremely humbling.”
“I’m honored,” he continued. “I go about doing my work on a regular basis, and it feels good to see that people recognize your hard work and your efforts.”