Honoring a mother's memory with a passion for serviceJennifer Long is executive director of the Ann Richards School Foundation, which funds the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, Texas. This innovative school dedicates itself to empowering young women and creating opportunities for girls who may otherwise face barriers to achieving their full potential.
Here, MissionBox co-founder and CEO Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with Jennifer about what drives her to make a difference in the lives of others.
Students at the Ann Richards School are encouraged to lead with courage and compassion. What does this mean to you — and to the students?
The girls who attend the Ann Richards School come from all corners of the city. Some of them take the bus an hour each way just to get to class. Their families aren't necessarily able to provide the opportunities for success that so many kids take for granted, so they come to us. These girls have made a commitment. They're bright and confident. They have poise and drive. One day, they'll pump their passion and knowledge back into the world.
More than 60 percent of our girls will be the first generation in their families to graduate from college. Many of them will pull their families out of poverty. We're going to see our girls doing amazing things in this world, and part of their success will be attributable to the fact that they got their start at the Ann Richards School. Having the chance to be one small part of making that happen is both humbling and amazing.
What inspires you to do the work you do?
I've worked in community service and philanthropy for the majority of my career. I can point it back to my childhood in Houston, Texas. My mom died when I was just 11. I'll always remember her as very civically minded. She was a leader in the local Jewish community and an educator. She would bring me along to community service projects, which instilled in me at a very young age the importance of giving back. It's fun, it's rewarding and it feels good to help other people.
I have two young daughters, and I'm doing the same for them today. A number of years ago we started volunteering with Little Helping Hands, a local nonprofit that organizes family volunteer activities. Later I served a term as president of the board. My hope is that my daughters will grow up to care about others and support their communities in whatever way makes sense for them. It's my own manifestation of serving my mother's memory in a powerful way.
You've decided to use your skills to honor your mother and do good in the world. How do you know it's worth the effort?
All children should have access to the best opportunities so they can find their path forward. In my role with the Ann Richards School Foundation, I'm able to support the school and their innovative practices and amazing ideas. If I can do anything to remove obstacles or create opportunities for girls who wouldn't otherwise have the chance, there's no question that it's worth the effort.
All of us — the foundation, the board, the school — want to provide for our girls. We say all the time, "Our girls are going to change the world." The fact that we're able to impact one student, one family, at a time is a privilege. I couldn't be any luckier.
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Jennifer Long is executive director of the Ann Richards School Foundation, which funds the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, Texas. Jennifer joined the Ann Richards School Foundation after more than a decade with the LIVESTRONG Foundation, where she led marketing strategy and operations to support the organization's mission-related and fundraising initiatives during its times of greatest growth and challenge. Jennifer is former board president for the Austin-based nonprofit Little Helping Hands. She's widely recognized as a collaborative leader who cultivates relationships and connections for the good of the missions she serves.