2020 Difference Makers: Jess King

Jess King
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

Editor's note: This is one of 12 Newsmakers stories in B Magazine. To read other stories about area Newsmakers, click here. And to subscribe to the print edition of B Magazine, click here.

"If you want to find community, you have to get involved," says Jess King.

King, a web strategist at SoutheastHEALTH, may not originate from Southeast Missouri, but over the last 20 years she has poured her energy into Cape Girardeau and made it her home.

On a typical week, you can find her volunteering at One City, Mac's Mission or Run for God -- and those are just the ones in her regular rotation.

A former foster parent, Alpha participant, farmers market volunteer and Shipyard Music Festival volunteer, King is all over town. If you ask her for help, she'll be there. If you need her to lead a team, she'll be there. And if you just need a friend to chat with, she'll be there, too.

If love is an action, then her love for the community is strong.

Born and raised in St. Louis, with just a bit of time on the West Coast, King believes her love for community and people came from her parents.

"I was raised by hippies," laughs King, speaking of her mom and step-dad, who cultivated in her a spirit of generosity and love. "My mom is very welcoming and accepting. She would give anyone the shirt off her back."

King would probably do the same.

After moving to Cape Girardeau to attend Southeast Missouri State University, she fell in love with the town and decided to stay. For her, it was important to find a church right away and to get plugged in. Serving others gave her the opportunity to meet new people and connect. But she didn't just stay and serve within the four walls of the church. She became the church, by going outside and loving on her neighbors; loving everyone. Believing that she has been blessed to be a blessing, King turns to 1 Corinthians 16:14 as her guide: "Let all that you do be done in love." Recently, that love led her to form a team and host a Juneteenth celebration at One City. During that same time, she partnered with local friends to create and develop the One Love Library that now stands on the corner of North Frederick and Independence. In the future, she hopes to use that same space to host a multicultural night, celebrating the diversity of Cape Girardeau and the people who live here.

Along those same lines, she has plans to offer an outdoor movie series and wants to pull together resources for a Pop-up Palooza where local vendors can come together and support each other's small business endeavors. Her hope is that these community events will bring people together that don't already know each other. And in the process, will serve to educate the community, bringing awareness to social issues and bridging the gap.

When she's not loving on people, King is loving on dogs. At Mac's Mission, she spends time with many animals that have been neglected or abused. Oftentimes the dogs are scared of people, and her job is to love and hug them. It's what she likes to call "hug therapy," a method that benefits both her and the pups she serves. In a world where so many of us aren't hugging right now, it's a good reminder of how therapeutic simple touch can be.

While life has changed for so many during quarantine, King feels that her life has remained the same.

In her downtime she plays volleyball, sews blankets and watches the Great British Baking Show. She still gets up and goes to work everyday and volunteers her time in the evenings.

Aside from wearing a mask, it's been life as normal. Which is good for the people of Southeast Missouri, because the community needs her ambition. They need her support. And most importantly, they need her love.