Female trailblazers: Nancy Jernigan

Monday, November 15, 2010
Nancy Jernigan and Jonni Latus (Laura Simon)

Nancy Jernigan

Executive director of the United Way of Southeast Missouri

1. What is your passion in life?

My passion in life continues to evolve, and involves marrying my faith more directly with the work that I have come to know at United Way -- helping people, loving our neighbor. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to fulfill my passion every day with our work at United Way.

2. It's been 90 years since women earned the right to vote. How have the lives of women changed in your lifetime, and what do you see for women in the future?

The big change with women in my lifetime is the conversion of the housewife into the working mother. Although it is fulfilling for the woman, and also good for the workplace in those situations where a woman's nurturing nature enhances the environment, I'm not sure it is ideal. The challenge remains how to balance the demands of a job with the most important job of all -- raising children in a healthy, nurturing environment. Along with women's roles, men's roles have also had to change -- they now help to change diapers, do the shopping, laundry, etc. I wonder how they feel about that?

3. With your background in United Way, what do you see as women's biggest concerns? What are you doing to address those concerns?

The women I visit with are most concerned about our young children and single-mother families. Women know the challenges, even under the best circumstances, to ensure that our children have every opportunity, are prepared to enter school and experience success in the school setting. And too many children in our community are not prepared to enter school and are not experiencing success. A piece of data on a flip chart in our board room indicates that 41 percent of single-mother families live in poverty -- that statistic has drawn the attention of many women who visit our office. The wonderful thing about exposing women to the issues is their desire to do something about it -- immediately! Our GRACES Women's Council has embraced the "young child" as its focus and is supporting two programs that serve them: the Backpack Program through the SEMO Food Bank and the Read to Succeed reading intervention program targeting early elementary students who are struggling with reading. These programs address two of our most critical community issues today -- basic needs and education.

4. How is Southeast Missouri doing well when it comes to quality of life for women? Where are we falling short?

Southeast Missouri, particularly the Cape Girardeau/Jackson area, offers a quality of life for women that is full and rich. The values of the Midwest are unmatched and provide opportunities to raise a family in an extremely healthy environment. The variety of businesses and work experiences here offer women many opportunities for a rewarding career. And the faith community is strong dynamic and active. We are proud of our female business leaders in the area, our small business owners, our education professionals, mayors and city council members, doctors, lawyers, pastors and, of course, the multitude of not-for-profit professionals throughout the area, who all serve the community with tremendous intellect and spirit. There are only a few "glass ceilings" left in our small town, but the opportunities far outweigh the shortcomings.

5. What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their careers?

The best advice I have for young women is to get involved in community. It will not only enhance your career, but it will enhance your life -- and the life of your family. Volunteer for a not-for-profit or at a school, find your passion and spend time thinking beyond your own needs. Get out of your comfort zone and expand your relationships to those who would benefit from your skills and abilities. I am fond of a C.S. Lewis quote, "The limit of giving is to be the limit of our ability to give." And we need more people to give more -- always! Also, for women just starting their careers -- or for women at any point in their lives -- keep God at the center.

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