For Jessica Hays, it’s important to give back, but even more important is her duty to inspire others to do the same.
Jessica Hays is a wife, mother, nonprofit executive and volunteer, so to say she’s involved in the community is an understatement. For her, it’s important to give back, but even more important is her duty to inspire others to do the same.
I moved to Sarasota after getting a job out of college. I grew up in Tallahassee and went to FSU, but Sarasota was on my radar. My parents grew up here, and we always had vacationed here to visit my grandparents when I was growing up. My initial job was doing public relations for a PR marketing firm in town. When I was working in marketing and advertising, my favorite projects were those with the nonprofits. It was something that felt more meaningful than the other day-to-day work I was doing for large companies.
Part of what makes Sarasota so wonderful is the incredible efforts of the community. Sarasota is a beautiful community to look at and live in, but it’s not immune from needs, violence or sexual assault — there are people here in great need for services. It’s my responsibility to be a part of that and to leave Sarasota better than it was the day before.
My initial motivation for getting involved was that I have a lot of energy and wanted to find meaningful ways to channel my desire to be on the go. Being new to the area, I didn’t know many people here, so I put my energy into getting to know my community.
I joined Junior League 12 years ago. I knew I wanted to get involved, but I wasn’t sure where to start. The greatest thing about Junior League is that it really exposes you to a wide range of nonprofits. The first time I heard about SPARCC was in 2003 when I was on the Junior League’s New Member Trolley Tour. That day, a few of the organizations I learned about — Children First, Child Protection Center, and The Women’s Resource Center — are all organizations that have become important to me personally, and that I have the opportunity to interact with frequently for both my volunteer and professional life. Over the past several years, I have been fortunate to spend time at many of our local nonprofits: painting at Children First, sorting clothing and organizing at Mothers Helping Mothers, working with the Child Protection Center to “Paint the Town Blue” and meeting with girls at Girls Inc.
One moment that really propelled my desire to give back was when I was involved in a volunteer project with The Heart Gallery of Sarasota. I helped put on an event that would serve as a way to bring potential adoptive “forever” families together with foster children, many who are older children, or siblings who need to stay together. I remember spending time with those wonderful children and leaving a little bit of my heart with them that day. That experience was a catalyst for me. I saw the depth of the needs in our community. I also saw how much impact a small group of people can have when they come together to make change.
As a mother of two little girls, organizations that serve children have a special place in my heart. When you touch the life of a child, you have the power to create real change — developing their potential can help them escape poverty, teaching them about healthy relationships can change the course of their future. I want my girls to embody the Girls Inc. mission to be strong, smart and bold and try to teach them that every day through my own words and actions.
What I’ve come to realize in the last couple of years is that my mission is very similar to Junior League’s — “inspire to inspire.” Through my leadership position, I can provide positive encouragement and inspire others to be inspired to be involved. Junior League’s intention is to deepen the potential of women and that mission flows through with me in SPARCC. We are empowering women and developing their potential to realize what it is that their goals are for their lives. Inspiring and empowering others to reach their potential can create a far-reaching ripple effect.
I have been lucky to have a few wonderful mentors who have inspired and encouraged me. Without their influence, I would not have become as invested in our nonprofit community as I am today. I want to inspire others to become leaders, to get involved, to do something to leave the world a little bit better. One of my favorites quotes is Dr. Seuss “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, it’s not going to get better, it’s not.” Luckily, we live in a community of people who care a whole lot.