For most people, a bed is a place where they sleep every night. For Jessica Stanfield, a bed is a symbol for why she actually gets out of bed every morning to tackle her job: overseeing the Guardian ad Litem Foundation of the 20th Judicial Circuit in Southwest Florida.
One of the programs at the foundation, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for abused, neglected or abandoned youth in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties, is Beds for Kids. It does what its name says: provides a bed for a family that takes in a vulnerable child but lacks resources. Stanfield, named executive director of the foundation in late 2019, has been at many bed-drops, when a child sees he or she will have a bed, in some cases for the first time. The heart-tugging, tear-jerking moments inspire Stanfield to keep going.
“The motivation is to help one more kid get one more bed,” Stanfield says. “I’m humbled by the fact that I can help children every day.”
A native of the central New York state region, Stanfield has been in nonprofits for about a decade. She worked for the National Museum of Dance in New York for a few years before being named development director for the Southwest Florida Symphony in 2018. At that job and in her current role, Stanfield has become involved in the Southwest Florida nonprofit scene. That includes a seat on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Collier-Lee chapter and working with the COVID-19 task force set up by Community Organizations Active in a Disaster.
Stanfield traces her career path back to growing up, where she was interested in social work and related fields. “I’ve always had this tug to help people,” she says, “especially kids.”
The pandemic, of course, has made the work more challenging, with needs going up and the ability to hold events to raise money to meet those needs being curtailed. “Fundraising has been tough,” she says. “I’ve lost a little sleep at night figuring out how we will do this, how we will do that.”
On the flip side, Stanfield stayed up late one recent night writing thank-you notes to each supporter, both new and returning, who donated to a recent campaign. Thanking those people, like the beds for kids, inspires Stanfield. “I’ve learned how to see the beauty in any situation,” she says, “even ones that don’t seem so beautiful.”
Saratoga Springs, New York
Years on the Gulf Coast
Married with a 2-year-old daughter, Kathryn, and a baby boy on the way (due in early February)
Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a focus in social work
What community group or organization are you most involved with?
I've run a few half marathons with Team in Training, benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphonia Society. It's been so much fun raising money for a cure while training for an event with people that are now some of my closest friends.
What's the weirdest job you've ever had?
I spent a summer in high school surveying concertgoers about their experiences at a venue in upstate New York. I got to meet lots of interesting people and see some fantastic shows, but it was definitely a strange job experience.
What's your top tip for being productive?
Schedule, schedule, schedule! Especially now when there is nothing normal about a work day. I have a plan for every day, prioritizing the tasks I have to complete before moving onto the next. It keeps me focused and on schedule to accomplish what needs to get done.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be?
Event planner. I love parties and weddings.
What's your favorite off-hours activity?
I love spending time with my daughter and watching her experience the world.
What's your favorite board game, game show or video game?
I love to play Clue. I'm also a very competitive "Jeopardy" viewer, constantly beating my husband (much to his dismay).
I had never used a delivery service pre-pandemic (I know, I know — living under a rock!), but now I love DoorDash and curbside grocery pickup.
What do you use most — Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Meetings?
It's been all Zoom all the time since our operations went remote.
What’s the best binge-worthy show you have enjoyed during the pandemic?
"Umbrella Academy" for sure. After reading the show description I wasn't sure it was for me, and now I'm not-so-patiently waiting for the next season.
What’s the longest virtual meeting you’ve been on since mid-March?
Two and a half hours — it was a doozy but productive.
How many times had you used video for a work meeting prior to the pandemic?
A handful of times — certainly fewer than 10.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, I've learned that even in the darkest times, when everything seem to be at an all-time low, there is always hope. Leading a nonprofit in this environment comes with a plethora of unknowns, stress and lack of sleep. Seeing how our community has stepped up to help the children we serve as new volunteers and donors has been incredible. It's during the hardest times that, if we open our eyes to it, we can see the beauty in the world. I constantly find myself quoting the following from Fred Rogers lately: “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me: "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” His mother was so right.
What do you miss most about the world pre-pandemic?
I miss the normalcy. I miss knowing that we had to leave the house by 7:45 a.m. to get to day care on time and into the office by 8:30. I miss the simplicity of day-to-day operations, like being able to transfer a phone call or drop something off to someone. I miss the office water cooler talks, where great ideas are born, and necessary check-ins with colleagues happen.
What have you been spending more time doing during the pandemic?
I've been doing a lot of sewing. When the calls for masks came in from various local hospitals, schools and agencies needing masks, I got to work. To date I've been able to donate hundreds locally.
Do you prefer working from home or working from an office?
Both. There are some things I can do from home more efficiently, but I miss seeing people and working together in person for sure.
How have you kept up camaraderie with colleagues during the pandemic?
I do a lot of phone call check-ins to see what's going on with everyone. We've also had some Zoom meetings with our full team that have turned into swapping stories and catching up. It's been nice to be able to "see" them, even if only remote.
What’s the first thing you’ll do after the pandemic?