RJL Solutions, an advocacy and strategic communications firm headquartered in Terre Haute, Indiana, has added a second full-time employee to their Indianapolis office. Taylor Hollenbeck joins the team, bringing previous experience in government relations, most recently as Director of Legislative Affairs in the Office of Indiana Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch.
“As RJL Solutions continues to grow, it became important for us to provide support to the Indianapolis office not only during session but all year long,” states RJL Solutions CEO Rachel Leslie. “While Taylor will work with our clients from every location – West Central Indiana to statewide – we knew that it was time to increase our presence in the Indianapolis market.”
As Government Relations Associate at RJL Solutions, Hollenbeck will assist in the development and implementation of strategic high-level initiatives for clients which include policy development, relationship-building, collaboration and partnerships at local, state, and federal levels. Additionally, this position will be key in the analysis of proposed legislative actions, determining the potential impact and developing appropriate responses.
“Taylor brings extensive knowledge in policy analysis and the creation of advocacy strategies that have proven successful,” states RJL Solutions Director of Government Relations Andrianna Hji-Avgoustis. “Her experience has given her in-depth knowledge of the legislative process and the proven ability to form strong connections with key stakeholders. She’ll definitely be a gamechanger for our Indianapolis office and the entire company.”
Hollenbeck obtained her bachelor’s degree in political science from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Before serving in the Lt. Governor’s Office, Hollenbeck was a legislative assistant and, prior to that, a legislative intern. She also volunteers as co-director of a local pageant affiliated with the Miss America Organization.
a message from Vittoria Meyer, Business Development Specialist
Listening. It seems like such an easy task, an easy thing to do. As humans, we've been doing it from day one. We were taught when we were kids to listen up and quiet down. To an extent, it has been engraved into our very nature. However, listening with heart and the full intention to understand is an acquired skill.
As Business Development Specialist at RJL Solutions, listening has become a significant part in my every day role. As the liaison and committed contact for our clients, it is my job to take what a client shares with me, whether it be opportunities, hurdles or distant visions, and digest them to generate solutions and tangible outcomes. By listening, I am able to ask probing questions and draw answers and information that might not be evident from the start. Many times, this leads the conversation through a stream of processes in which ideas unravel, creativity flourishes and resolutions become evident.
Over the last 4 months, normalcy generated a new feel. Many things were changing, including my role at RJL Solutions as I entered into the position of Business Development Specialist. As many of us know, business development quickly looked different as companies and organizations began strategizing under perimeters they hadn't experienced before. Priorities shifted, mindsets changed and business models pivoted with the times. Listening suddenly had a heightened level of responsibility and significance. Listening became make or break, success or failure.
Today, listening has become more of a normal in our society. We tend to stop and listen to the response at the end of the standard passing question of "how are you?" Genuine asks replace those that were used as a standard greeting. Today, we listen quite differently.
At RJL Solutions, I continue to hold this virtue as part of my standard business practice and integrate it into every facet of client relations. There are plenty more stories to be told and listening to be done. What are you ready to share?
About Vittoria Meyer
Vittoria Meyer, former Public Relations Specialist, was recently promoted to Business Development Specialist at public affairs firm, RJL Solutions. Within this new role, Meyer is responsible for building relationships with prospective and current clients, communicating the benefits of the company’s services and providing excellent client service to partners of RJL Solutions.
“I look forward to serving and elevating our clients in this newfound role,” Meyer states. “It energizes me to work one-on-one with clients, strategize solutions and identify unique opportunities that fit each clients’ unique needs and organizational models.”
Working as Business Development Specialist, Meyer will work closely with RJL Solutions’ clients by strengthening relationships and helping them succeed. Her writing and public relations expertise will be instrumental in RJL’s continued growth as she will be responsible for expanding its clientele and serving as a liaison for the company and its clients. Meyer will provide a link between clients and the essential resources needed to bring them winning successes.
“This position is essential for elevating RJL Solutions and each of our clients as it creates an added level of understanding, communication and solution-finding,” states Hannah Pruitt, RJL Solutions’ COO. “Vittoria is a strategic and creative thinker. This, mixed with her relatable and personable personality provides attributes that are vital for this role.”
After graduating from ISU in 2018, Meyer was immediately hired at RJL Solutions as Operations Manager. She quickly established herself as a young professional and as an individual on the RJL team. Meyer worked closely with CEO Rachel Leslie and was a critical asset in establishing the operational successes of RJL Solutions. In 2019, she was promoted to Public Relations Specialist, housed under the Strategic Communications department. In this role, she was able to establish her writing and media relations skills. These, amongst others, provide a unique skillset for her new role.
“I believe I have an interesting perspective having worked under RJL’s CEO and having worked for the Strategic Communications department. My tenure at the company has elevated me in areas I can succeed in, but most importantly in areas where I can ensure and contribute to our clients’ successes,” Meyer continues. “RJL Solutions, CEO Rachel Leslie and the entire team has established a road lined in leadership and possibility. I know this will remain true for this new opportunity.”
Aside from her work at RJL, Meyer recently became a graduate of Purdue Extension Leadership Vigo County. During this six-month process, she received a certificate of completion for the program’s training in leadership development. This experience elevated her leadership skills and gave her the opportunity to engage with members of her community. Aside from work, Meyer is an avid yoga fan. In her free time, she loves to travel, read and, of course, write.
RJL Solutions, a local public affairs firm, recently hired three summer interns: Anwyn Payonk, a senior from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College; Ashley Salesman, a senior from Indiana State University; and Abigail Wilson, a senior from Indiana State University.
“RJL Solutions seeks applicants who exemplify leadership qualities because every RJL employee is a leader on their own. Our interns support our mission to advance Indiana communities as well as take initiative in their daily tasks,” states Anna Madden, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications. “RJL’s internship program provides professional development and elevates individuals. We give them great opportunities through hands-on experience. Our interns take on high-level work that a lot of other places don’t allow interns to do. We choose leaders because we have opportunities for them.”
Anwyn Payonk, of Champaign, Ill., public relations intern, provides support to RJL Solutions in copy editing, writing and researching. Anwyn is currently pursuing a degree in English with minors in professional writing and women’s studies. At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, she gained experience as a writing tutor and Learning Resource Center assistant as well as serving as a Student Senate representative. After graduating, she hopes to earn an MA and eventually a Ph.D. in the literature and writing field.
“I love the foundation of RJL and what it stands for,” states Anwyn. “As a certified woman-owned business, it is empowering and motivating me to expand my knowledge and skills not just as a writer but as a young professional.”
Ashley Salesman, of Terre Haute, Ind., marketing and design intern, supports the team in social media management, content creation and website design. She is currently working towards a degree in communications with a minor in marketing. Along with RJL, Ashley works as a marketing specialist at Gibson Real Estate. At ISU, Ashley is extremely involved, serving as Zeta Tau Alpha historian, State Dance Marathon captain, and a National Honor Society member. When Ashley graduates this December, she hopes to continue working in marketing in the Terre Haute area.
“RJL has offered me the tools for success,” stated Ashley. “I am able to strengthen my design and marketing skills while maintaining and improving relationships with members of our community.”
Abigail Wilson, of Beecher, Ill., advocacy intern, assists RJL in grant research and government relations and is learning more about lobbying and policy. Through her work with Vigo County’s CASA, she found her passion for advocacy and helping people. Abigail is currently working toward a degree in public health and pre-law. After graduation, she will be joining the Indiana National Guard. She, then, is aiming to continue a career in advocacy by studying law.
“I’m excited to continue advocating and networking through RJL,” states Abigail. “I love that the mission of RJL is to bring a voice and platform to communities that need it. There are so many great businesses and services that deserve the necessary resources to bring them to their fullest potential.”
Fondly referred to as Triple A in the RJL office, all three interns began their internships working remotely, due to COVID-19. This week, they were able to join the team in the office and will continue their internship through the end of July.
“This group of interns are advanced college students. Each of them reflects the best of their respected colleges,” Madden continues. “I find value in leading future leaders. They are collaborating and gaining experience with the entire RJL Team. I’m excited to witness how they’ve accepted the challenges that COVID-19 has thrown their way and how they adapt and grow as leaders.”
a message from Shelby Gifford, Digital Marketing Manager
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the RJL Solutions team had a very real conversation about how businesses historically have reacted to a crisis. The harsh reality is, many organizations’ first response is to cut marketing and communication budgets significantly, in some cases all together.
As a marketer, I know that eliminating your communication during a crisis could be detrimental to your business or organization. A crisis is the time to step up, make your voice heard and communicate with your customers, clients and business partners. A crisis is a time to evaluate how to strategically communicate what your mission is and what your values are.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged businesses all over the world to re-think how they operate from a digital perspective. Brick-and-mortar reliant businesses suddenly had no way to continue to operate as normal and were forced to quickly develop a digital presence, or face shutting down all together.
Sadly, as many businesses are now learning, building a digital presence is something that is difficult to do overnight. Building a digital presence, whether it be on social media platforms, a website or an e-commerce platform, takes time to develop, and even more time to do so with an intentional and strategic approach.
For many businesses, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call that has sparked somewhat of a digital marketing revolution. Many businesses and organizations are now taking time to evaluate how to better utilize digital marketing efforts across many platforms, some for the first time.
At RJL Solutions, we pivoted our internal digital communication efforts not once, not twice, but three times since the beginning of the pandemic. Not only have we done that for our own internal processes, but we have done that for our clients as well.
Our entire team rallied to support our client family throughout this journey. Barriers between departments were bridged through digital technology and brainstorming became an entire team approach. We brainstormed, we acted, we pivoted and pivoted again. We ensured that our clients were getting their message out, strategically, intentionally and effectively. We understood and continue to understand the vital importance of digital communication during a crisis.
As a public affairs firm, we are proud of what we have done to help our clients so far during this journey. You will find that the businesses who didn't cut their marketing dollars and successfully increased their marketing efforts are the businesses that will not only survive, but thrive.
About Shelby Gifford
a message from Kaleigh All, Operations Manager
To serve as a manager, one should be a forward thinker and a leader, highly organized and possess a heightened ability to multitask. To be the Operations Manager at RJL Solutions, one also must be able to work efficiently in a fast-paced environment, while ensuring the foundation and backbone of the organization, its people and, of course, its clients are prioritized. With this, as Operations Manager, I am able to a contribute to the team in ways that allow each member to focus on their specialty, optimize their strengths and keep the company running smoothly and efficiently.
My goal, in its varying forms, is to assist the RJL Leadership Team, allowing them the flexibility, resources and support in order to give undivided attention to client relationships and moving the company forward. I hold this role to the highest regard, understanding that a strong and functional operations system lies the groundwork for growth. Quite often, like in modern architecture, the groundwork is unseen. I, too, maintain this groundwork in ways that aren’t directly visible. Many times, it’s maintenance on the groundwork of our already established processes, while other times its strategically developing and adding new, innovative groundwork that supports the growth of the organization. However, everything that encompasses my position is aimed to create an elite experience for our clients, our team and RJL Solutions as we know it.
Part of RJL Solutions’ elite experience is the woman-owned business certification the company holds through the state of Indiana. This status not only positions RJL Solutions uniquely in Terre Haute and West Central Indiana, but it is also a major benefit for our clients, giving them more opportunities to meet diversity bidding requirements. Operationally, obtaining this certification helps our clients, community, teammates and ourselves succeed, and I am so happy to be a part of a team that gets things done, from the groundwork up.
Our company, in partnership with the state of Indiana, has recently completed the process of becoming a women-owned businessrecognized throughout the state. With this certification, RJL Solutions, led by CEO and owner Rachel J. Leslie, looks forward to serving our clients in a new capacity, building beneficial partnerships and bringing greater opportunities and solutions to all.
"Our commitment to elevating our clients includes elevating our internal business operations, qualifications and certifications," states Leslie. "We have found that these investments provide greater benefits to our working partners and that drives us to create a more robust business model, which includes this certification."
RJL is committed to undergoing the next steps and certifications needed to help clients, community, teammates and ourselves succeed, and obtaining this certification heightens this ability.
For an entire list of the certified women-owned businesses in the state of Indiana, visit https://www.in.gov/idoa/mwbe/2743.htm
a message from Anna Madden, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications
When was the last time your company sat down to discuss your brand? If the answer is “in the last five years,” then great, you’re on track for another strategic discussion here soon. If your answer is “we don’t talk about he who must not be named,” then we need to sit down and have ‘the talk’ … the brand talk.
Let’s talk about what a brand is. Your brand is all of the tangible and intangible components of your company that both your consumers and employees see and experience. It’s your logo, colors, fonts, website, documents, name tags, business cards, brochures, and the list goes on. Some elements might need minor changes, and some might be classic to your brand with no changes but a focus on how to strategically use them to your benefit.
Brands are important to a company for multiple reasons. Internally, it’s a lucrative asset. You should include your brand on your balance sheet because something so well implemented and important to your company can be worth thousands of dollars. Your brand is also something that, when communicated and interpreted correctly, can provide a better understanding of your mission, vision and values to your employees so much so that they begin to exemplify these same strategic goals in their behaviors. Externally, it is how your consumers, community members and stakeholders perceive you. So, if you haven’t updated your brand in 30 plus years, only have one low quality image of your logo to use and purposely leave off your brand on the items your company produces, then you’re only decreasing the value of a lucrative asset and misrepresenting yourself to the people who contribute to your success.
Sure, rebranding is a lengthy process and implementing those changes can be costly. Take McDonald’s, for example. The company makes a consistent effort to update their logo on a regular basis, making the investment to implement those updates despite the high cost with thousands of locations all over the U.S. and around the world. There is a reason big corporations and chains participate in this practice and a reason you should too. Because it works. It’s all about consistency and staying relevant. I recommend collaborating with a marketing agency on how to do this correctly and implement it over a longer period of time. Ideally, you can rebrand your company and complete the implementation process within a year. You can also plan ahead and leave room in your budget for the future to accomplish this. Lastly, your rebrand can also be a successful tactic to accomplish items in your strategic plan.
Below, find some successful companies in West Central Indiana taking the initiative to invest in their company, consumers and employees by rebranding.
a message from McKenzi Kumpf, Grants Coordinator
To complete a puzzle one needs a good eye, patience and more patience. It takes time to put the pieces exactly where they need to go, and sometimes it takes a village to get to the finish line when the last piece is being placed. I like to view grants as a puzzle. I’m given pieces of a project and then given the responsibility to tell the project’s story. Much like puzzles, grants come in all shapes and sizes from a simple application to a multi-page narrative with documents attached. Like puzzles, one needs all the pieces to make it complete.
There is one thing I have learned about my role: writing is just a piece of that puzzle.
Before the writing even begins, there is work that needs to be done. There is researching, data collecting, budgeting and picture taking to build the foundation upon which the narrative stands. It's necessary to analyze instructions to ensure the pieces of the puzzle are put in the right place.
When the final pieces of the grant writing puzzle are complete, the goal is always to be awarded. Many factors influence the outcome of grant awards, many of which are outside of our control. Things such as the number of applicants, ask amounts, giving priorities, etc., all factor into the final decision. However, the pieces of your puzzle are also pieces of your next puzzle. These pieces provide the foundation to the next funding opportunity and the next after that. For every grant applied for, a fraction is awarded. It's important to note that un-awarded grants aren't failures, but enhance the foundation of your puzzle moving forward.
I am here to discover funding opportunities for your visions and projects. Once we find the opportunity, I am here to not only write your project narrative in the proposal, but I am here to assist you in piecing the information together that will make your project concrete whether through additional research, making videos or even counting houses on Google maps. I am here to help you read between the lines and look for things you might not consider. I am here to help create the blueprint for your story.
Your visions and projects can be made possible through the abundance of grant opportunities available out there. We only need to find the opportunity, bring it to the table and get to work piecing the puzzle together.
a message from the Director of Government Relations
Becoming an advocate was not a path I had envisioned for myself, initially. During my first job as a legislative assistant at the Indiana Senate, I began to understand the value and importance of the lobbying and advocacy roles. I worked closely with these people and saw, first-hand, how they educated legislators and provided them with information that informed them during the decision-making process. It was during this time that I gained a lot of respect for our participatory democracy and citizen engagement. I quickly learned that a productive government needs good advocates to make informed decisions. I decided I wanted to take part in working with governments to influence change and impact outcomes.
It is easy to recognize when you need help resolving a situation. What isn’t always as clear is who can help. An advocate goes to bat for their clients when they don’t know how to do it themselves. Advocates understand a situation on a higher level and understand how to make changes. We are lucky enough to live in a representative democracy that allows each of us to have the right to advocate, share our concerns and make sure our voice is heard.
The legislative process, at any level of government, is long and complex. There are many players and stakeholders, but effective advocates understand how to maneuver and build coalitions in order to effect positive change. Effective advocates are the passionate and strong voice for their clients and understand how to communicate and draw attention to issues. They have access to information and insight that is necessary in understanding how to get things done. The process of advocacy centers around representation, mobilization and empowerment for each person because we all deserve a seat at the table.
I became an advocate because I wanted to help people achieve their mission. Every person and every industry deserve a fighting chance to impact and improve their situation. As someone who spent over six years studying public administration and policy analysis, I know the importance of citizen engagement. Serving as the Director of Government Relations at RJL Solutions has provided me with the ability to do meaningful work for businesses and organizations. From research to relationships, I can provide our clients with a plan to achieve their mission.
I am here to ensure that each client has the ability to share their story and, if they choose, change their story. The beauty of our democratic government allows for us to be the change agents we want to see in this world.
a message from the Chief Operating Officer
March 16, 2020 marks a monumental time for me at RJL Solutions as I was honored to step into an incredible opportunity as the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer. The opportunity came with an interesting first assignment as that same day our company decided to prepare for the current situation focused around COVID-19. I am proud to be a part of a team that decided to transition to working from home early, as we learned to adapt quickly to these unprecedented times of uncertainty.
It is said that when you lose one sense, your remaining senses quickly begin compensating for the loss. This means something different for each company and every person; however, I am certain that we have lost one of our most valuable senses - the sense of physical connection to our friends and family, our clients and even our work and coworkers. We must now attentively focus efforts to regain those lost forms of communication and understanding by finding unique systems of connection.
It has been remarkable to experience the transition and change of working from home as we learn and adapt to a new normal. A normal that involves daycare and homeschooling in the same place as work, constant connectivity, laundry, web-hosted meetings, interruptions, multitasking at its greatest and continuous communication as we compensate for the lack of physical connectivity. Working from home has created new challenges with new opportunities and trials as we learn to “work” in a new form. Like many companies, we have quickly adapted to more intentional communication, both internally and externally.
As research promised, the business culture quickly adapted with other senses. One is listening. Of course, we have always listened, but now we depend on our ability to listen. The current state of a pandemic has caused us to more closely value the voices around us as we listen more attentively. We listen for emotional inflection, stress, drive and even gratification. These uncertain times have provided an opportunity to strengthen our listening proficiencies. Listening means taking notice and responding by making a calculated effort to hear. As I reflect on where we have come, this is exactly what we have done. As members of a conference call or zoom meeting, we intentionally listen to every aspect. Often, a member of the meeting will observe a sound from children or pets in the background as we each silently acknowledge the struggle of balance while rejoicing in the company of others.
We listen to our coworkers. We listen intentionally for many things. We hear the unique sounds of working from home, but we can also hear the stress, tension in their voices, and hear the distress in their concerns. We take in deep consideration of their wellbeing and frantically consider new ways to support, encourage and come alongside our valued and irreplaceable team. We hear the kids in the background and the interruptions being interruptions; work continues, and the progress overachieves the company’s penciled forecasts. As leaders, we are more intentional with our communication and above all, more sincere to our team's emotions. We are genuinely improving our abilities to understand, engage and respond to each other. In a less than ideal opportunity, we are refining our ability to adapt and listen with an intentional and sincere response.
There is a second group that deserves our intentional listening and response: our clients and our partners. Initially, as we all felt, many seemed discouraged, uncertain and concerned for what might be around the corner. As we listen to our clients and our partners share their earnest concerns, in their voice, you can hear the worry and uncertainty of the present times. There is no playbook or gameday video to watch; we are truly #inthistogether as we navigate the next hurdle. Each worry, just like ours, is different with a different weight of concern. Discouraging? No. This is our opportunity! Our opportunity to rebuild together, listen intently and respond with solutions. Not to sell but to uncover needs and create products and solutions for our partners. Zig Ziglar often is quoted in sales and motivational pieces saying, “True sales creates products and services for needs.” The need from a partner or customer’s worry. Consider this, consider how many have risen to the occasion to provide the next solutions by listening and uncovering the need. What will be your organization's next solution?
And lastly, as we reflect, we learned to listen to ourselves, to trust our gut and to respond with intentionality, drive and focus. As we make these next steps and navigate the next unknown, we can stand strong in trusting ourselves as leaders, relying on our training and believing in who we are, to succeed. What an opportunity! While not ideal, we have learned something about ourselves in these last few weeks. We have taken the time to listen to our ideas, and we transitioned better than we expected. We created new workspaces and daily operations, and we leveraged opportunities to serve others. We listened to our voice.
The mood has shifted. We have embraced the sounds of children in the background, remote learning obstacles and zoom meetings on our couch. It's made us who we are today, better listeners.
#betterlisteners #solutionmakers #rebuildingtogether
a message from Betsy Peperak, Director of Strategic Communications
Earlier this year – before COVID-19 became a threat to our health, our way of life and our economy – I had written a personal blog about losing my muchness. I had been in a funk for quite some time and was ready to make an intentional decision accompanied by concrete action items to find my muchness.
If you’ve seen Tim Burton’s live action Alice in Wonderland, then you know this word: muchness. It comes at a time when Alice has lost faith in herself and her abilities. She doesn’t believe the path before her is her path to take. In fact, she’s flat out refusing to help her friends because she doesn’t believe she’s the right person for the job. She doesn’t believe she is meant to be the hero in this story:
“You’re not the same as you were before,” the Mad Hatter says to Alice. “You were much more muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.”
“My muchness?” replies Alice.
“In there,” the Hatter points toward Alice’s heart. “Something’s missing.”
My 2020 goal was to find my muchness again, and I had surmised that the way to do that was to focus outward instead of inward – to focus on the relationships in my life. All relationships – personal, professional and spiritual. Looking back, part of me laughs at the fact that I decided to focus on relationships – something that often requires personal contact – when a global pandemic was days away from keeping me stuck in my home for several weeks. The other part of me thinks, “This is actually the perfect time to do that. It is a chance to reflect and truly be intentional about how I am interacting with and affecting those around me.”
I think my realization mirrors the choice now in front of any organization or business; they can either view this time as a challenge or an opportunity. They can sigh and say, “Boy, this messes up everything I had planned,” or they can say, “How can I use this situation to reach my goals?” Or both, as long the first comes before the second.
I think that many organizations and businesses are probably feeling like they’ve lost their muchness right now. “Normal” changed overnight, and we are all struggling to see where we fit in. I’m sticking to my story that the key to gaining your muchness back is relationships. Relationships with your customers, your clients, your partners, your vendors, your stakeholders, etc.
And what do all experts say is the key to any good relationship? You know it. Communication.
That’s why our CEO, Rachel J. Leslie, shortly after opening RJL Solutions, an advocacy firm, an industry that strives on relationships, added a communications department. As the Director of Strategic Communications at RJL Solutions, I’m here to tell you that now is not the time to become a marketing and communications hermit. It is more important to tell your story during a storm than it is when it’s smooth sailing. If you don’t tell your story, then rest assured someone else will, especially in today’s world. When self-publishing is at everyone’s fingertips – social media, review websites, etc., silence is not the key.
When COVID-19 hit the U.S., you may have noticed your email inboxes flooding with communications from just about every company that you had ever allowed to have your email address. Those emails communicated to you what the company was doing, how they were pivoting, and why they were still relevant to you. They were using that communication as a tool to maintain their relationship with you, their customer. I received and read several of those emails, and they often gave me renewed confidence in the businesses and organizations that I have chosen to trust with my patronage and my money.
From the moment a customer, or anyone, first interacts with your business or organization, the relationship is sparked. It may be small at first, a brief encounter that can set the tone for the future, but the more communication you send their way, the stronger the relationship becomes. And in times of uncertainty, if a company doesn’t communicate with their customer, they risk losing them. Pivoting is important, but how are you communicating that pivot to your customers?
At RJL Solutions, we have been busy helping our clients pivot and communicate since COVID-19 hit – by creating social media strategies and campaigns, producing videos, hosting webinar forums, writing talking points and editorials, and more. We have fought hard for our clients to prevent them from losing their muchness – inspiring them to step up and move forward, much the same way the Mad Hatter did for Alice. We are in this together. We must take those necessary steps now – pivot with a focus on our relationships and our communication – so that when we come out of our rabbit holes, we have the opportunity to be better and stronger than before.
a message from Rachel J. Leslie
Some would say what defines a crisis is how we react to it, both from a tactical and emotional standpoint. Today’s healthcare crisis, which has caused an economic one, offers the most equipped leaders an opportunity to rise to the occasion, elevate their capabilities and pivot. The fear, sadness and unknowns of our current reality lend us to not just shelter in place, but shelter from our individual realities. The “what if” scenarios begin playing out, and it’s fight or flight. I’ve read articles about the last pandemic, the Great Depression, our last recession and about every economic recovery model I can manage to find online. Our leaders have historic decisions to make in the coming days. When do we cut the caution tape? When is it safe to begin healing the backbone of our country - a thriving economy, the American dream? At the end of this, will we be the miracle or be looking for one?
Over the years, people have defined leadership in different ways. Today, I would personally describe leadership as the ability to see far enough into the future in your own way, knowing every pivot matters and bringing people alongside you, making them a part of the bigger plan too. You may define it differently, but that’s okay. I’m not sure there is a right or wrong answer, just one that defines you in this moment.
Defining moments don’t have to be life or death. However, during a pandemic, it’s hard not to turn on the television and see that life and death is literal. People are dying from the virus; business are dying from the impacts; and the survival is hard to celebrate because guilt takes over. I believe it’s okay not to feel guilty, to lead beyond others and take risks. In these historical and defining moments, we have an opportunity to succeed and bring others along. If that is the case, could you be the miracle you need?
I found this story of one miracle, literally.
Richard Hellman introduced a gooey spread at his deli in the early 1900s. Americans became mayonnaise lovers. But thirty years later, during the Great Depression, people could no longer afford the condiment, which is made out of pricey ingredients: eggs, oil, and vinegar. Kraft, whose mayo sales were slipping, devised new emulsifying technology in order to create a mayo alternative. The machine made it possible to whip cheaper ingredients from high fructose corn syrup and water into oil, creating Miracle Whip - the fluffy, creamy, sort of mayo-like spread. (ondeck.com)
So, the Great Depression brought us Miracle Whip. It makes me wonder what this pandemic will bring us. Some are predicting tighter restrictions, fear, a turn to spending more on healthcare. I’m predicting so much more. I’m predicting leaders who are already pivoting, but we can’t see what they’re doing just yet. I’m predicting greatness, miracles and defining moments.
For my small business, I’m pivoting too. Every day, new material is there for us to read, uncover and help our clients (you) through different opportunities and scenarios. I believe that at this time, my pivotal moment is recognizing where we belong. Right now, the RJL team seems best fit standing by you as you become the Miracle, which will perhaps be our defining moment. I hope so.
With gratitude for your trust,
Rachel J. Leslie
Her expertise in relationship-building and strategic planning will ensure the company not only has the proper operational controls, but also the people systems and customer service in place to effectively grow RJL Solutions.
“I’m thankful for this opportunity to further engage my commitment and passion for the successes and wins of community partners,” states Pruitt. “As a member of the RJL Solutions team, I am always looking around the corner at what is coming next, not only for our company but for our clients. I’m excited to see where this journey in leadership takes me and how I can use my talents to contribute to RJL Solutions’ future in big ways.”
A Terre Haute native, Pruitt has expertise in customer relations, business development, strategic marketing planning and digital platforms, with over 13 years of experience in digital and media sales. Her experience is focused on business development and strategic planning through high-level, long-term solutions for businesses of all sizes, with emphasis on brand development, brand awareness, competitive analysis and strategically focused planning to increase market share. Pruitt graduates with a degree in human resources this spring from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Hannah has served on various volunteer boards and committees in the community including the Wabash Valley United Way, Terre Haute Young Leaders, Sponsorship Drive Chair, and Marketing Committee Liaison. As a Purdue Extension Leadership recipient, Ivy Tech graduate, and Vigo County 4H Tenure Alumni, Hannah recognizes the importance of leadership in the community.
"I am so excited to be a part of this team and do my part in working towards making a positive impact on the community, region and state at large. As a homegrown Hoosier and Terre Haute native, I look forward to not only learning about my community in this new capacity but growing alongside it."
Prior to her role at RJL Solutions, All worked at Indiana State University’s Career Center as Employer Relations Coordinator. Before that, she was the Program Support Specialist for the Department of Nursing at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Both roles supported All’s organizationally and logistically sound personality, and have crafted her skills, making her the ideal candidate for the job.
Reflecting on 2019, my brain gets a little tired. Every client, partner and friend of the RJL family had momentous occasions. Perhaps the biggest celebration is that each one of them involved some form of collaboration and commitment to the future. In addition, as the RJL Solutions family grows, so does the team. We added five new employees in 2019, and each one of them touch our clients in some way, whether behind the scenes or on the frontline. Each one of them have a role that intentionally moves our clients’ issues and opportunities forward.
I believe it’s messy because there is still so much to accomplish. Not one project was finished on December 31. In fact, many projects began in parallel with the ones that were already in the pipeline. We are, in real time, experiencing the benefits of the old adage, "success breeds success." With that, I believe messy is absolutely intentional. As one project demonstrates success, we see reason to begin the next, and then the next. Growth isn’t captured by celebrating successes for too long. Soon, that success is only measured in history, and the future requires a leader that is intentionally thinking about the next opportunity. Intentionality can make things messy.
So, let’s make 2020 the year of being intentional together, even if it’s messy.
Would you be willing to share with us an organizational goal that might be messy but intentional? Is it risky? Are you unsure yet committed? Do you wake up excited about it? Are you willing to share it to inspire others? If so, we want to share it with the RJL family across the entire state! Send it to me at email@example.com. Please be courageous and share!
With excitement about 2020!
Rachel J. Leslie, CEO
RJL Solutions LLC
a message from Rachel J. Leslie
While working the polls yesterday, I stood next to friends discussing the weather. When the clouds were covering the sun, it was naturally colder. When the sun was shining without a filter, it provided additional warmth and comfort. I woke up this morning, and it was dark. I wondered what the weather might be the day after the election. How it might affect our mood, our feelings on the outcomes of one of the most important elections in Terre Haute’s history – my opinion, of course. At the break of dawn the sun rose with a colorful hue, it felt like more than just the start of a new day. It felt like the start of a new future. The filters were gone, and for the first time in a while, the sun was brighter than I had remembered in some time.
Yesterday, voters in Terre Haute had many important decisions to make. The one closest to the RJL Solutions team was the “Vote Yes On 1” campaign to bring a casino to Terre Haute. We were known for our relentless education at the Statehouse, pushing the bill that would allow Terre Haute/Vigo County to vote on whether or not they wanted a casino to support an economic stimulus for not only our home community but the entire West Central Indiana region. It was exactly one year ago at this time we started putting together the pieces for the Terre Haute Is All In campaign to educate community and government leaders and legislators state-wide on why Terre Haute/Vigo County was strategically positioned for such opportunity.
The Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, local union groups, local government leaders (on both sides of the aisle) and, of course, our state legislators representing our region led the initiative. When we needed people to testify, they were there. When we needed letters of support, they were there. When we needed support in any way, they were there. I’m convinced legislators chose to support our community because we showed we wanted positive change, new economic development, and that we wanted to compete – Terre Haute wanted to progress. We won.
Yesterday represented a lot of work by a lot of people. It would be impossible to name everyone, and knowing all of them, I would say they would stand with me in my next few comments. Yesterday was about the people. Beyond leadership, yesterday gave the citizens of the community their right to exercise their choice. The 63% vote in favor represented well over half of our community’s voting population, ready for change and growth.
With sun comes the ability to see the dust. You know, when the sun shines through the windows and you can see the particles you’ve desperately been trying to ignore. There is no more filter. People across the state and Midwest are watching Terre Haute, Indiana. As a community we have the opportunity to dust up, rearrange some furniture and work collaboratively to create a community people want to visit – even more than they do now. Let’s adopt the new See You in Terre Haute brand, clean up our store fronts, execute the community plan (where over 1500 people participated), get beyond the election turmoil that may have transpired and build up on something every community in Indiana wishes they had – a new future, filled with new opportunities, unfiltered.
Local Government and Public Affairs Firm, RJL Solutions, expands its lobbying department with the hiring of Andrianna Hji-Avgoustis. A dedicated student, ambassador and former Legislative Assistant for the Indiana Senate Majority, Hji-Avgoustis brings her passion for policy, change and legislation to the RJL Solutions team.
“I’ve had the pleasure to work within the public policy framework for the last six years, including the last three legislative sessions. I’m anxious to utilize what I’ve learned both in my educational background and directly with the legislators to impact the RJL family of clients and stakeholders,” states Hji-Avgoustis.
Hji-Avgoustis will work directly under the leadership of Rachel Leslie and alongside RJL Solutions’ lobbying and advocacy clients to advance efforts at a state level. Her background in public policy and government relations brings added proficiency and knowledge to the team while allowing the firm to expand in the Indianapolis area and statewide. Hji-Avgoustis will have a strong presence at the Indiana Statehouse in the coming 2020 legislative session, a scene she has become accustomed to in her previous roles working alongside Senator Jon Ford and Senator Michael Young.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see Andrianna at work at the Statehouse. She was not only timely, but strategic in everything she took on regardless of the issue at hand,” states Rachel Leslie. “I’m thrilled to bring Andrianna’s talents and relationships into the RJL client family. Her day-to-day interactions being positioned full-time in Indianapolis will grow our footprint into Central Indiana more firmly.”
Hji-Avgoustis is a graduate of Indiana University where she received a bachelor’s degree studying law and public policy. She is currently finishing a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Environmental Policy and Sustainability. She is expected to graduate in May 2020 with her graduate degree.
In Indiana, and at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, we’re focused on making Indiana the best place to live, work, play and stay, and in many ways that boils down to service. Service to the businesses here in our state that propel our economy forward, and service to our communities and people who make the state what it is today. And, thanks to hardworking Hoosiers and job creators, Indiana is firing on all cylinders. Our pro-growth business climate continues to attract investment and new job opportunities from companies around the world, and we consistently rank best in the Midwest and top five in the nation for doing business. Moreover, our fiscally stable and predictable environment enables the state to make unprecedented investments in education, infrastructure and in our communities and people.
As the state’s economy continues to flourish, we’re faced with a new challenge, and really, an exciting opportunity—ensuring we have the workforce needed to fill the jobs businesses continue to create across our state. Along with dedicating more resources to education and rolling out new programs to assist our existing employers in skilling up their workers, state leaders are committed to helping communities create long-term plans focused on quality of place and talent attraction. Through goals initiated by the Regional Cities Initiative, which dedicated $126 million in matching funds to three regions, and carried forward by similar programs under the leadership of Governor Eric J. Holcomb, Indiana is investing in the culture, vitality and livability of our communities for today’s residents and for future generations.
In west central Indiana, communities are working together to transform the Wabash Valley into a destination for talent. Quality of place projects first identified through the Regional Cities Initiative have taken shape with broad support. The redevelopment of the Icon Building in Terre Haute, for example, utilized the state’s redevelopment tax credit to bring life to the once vacant industrial facility on Indiana State University’s campus, creating the now-available, high-quality Riverfront Lofts, which provide apartments for students and residents in the downtown area. And, with an additional $1.5 million awarded to continue its regional economic development efforts, west central is forging ahead with an emphasis on increasing tourism, housing and entrepreneurship, focusing on transformative projects like the Turn to the River initiative, which will connect downtown Terre Haute to the Wabash River through public art and design; enhancing Vincennes’ First Street with improved housing and tourism; and increasing trails, parks and recreational amenities along the region’s riverfronts.
To build on the momentum from the Regional Cities Initiative, Indiana’s leaders are also encouraging regions to develop comprehensive, data-driven plans focused on attracting, developing and connecting talent. Through the 21st Century Talent Regions program, business, academic and civic leaders across the state are collaborating to create and implement plans designed specifically to address educational attainment, household income and population growth. Since the program’s inception, two regions have already been designated as 21st Century Talent Regions, and we continue to work hand-in-hand with other parts of the state, including the Wabash Valley, to identify their strategic priorities.
In the coming years, we’ll continue to promote the same goals under these initiatives while building on the tremendous regional collaboration occurring throughout the state. Together, we made Indiana a global destination for business, and now, we’re making Indiana a global destination for talent.
Elaine Bedel - President, Indiana Economic Development Corporation
a message from Rachel J. Leslie
I’m asked often what a lobbyist does. After this past session, I’ve been asked a lot about the ever-changing dynamics of legislation, the constant wondering of where a bill stands in the process. The truth is, even those standing in the middle of the hallways day-in and day-out have to track down those very answers, but like many things in life, it is the reaction to what you learn that can make the difference. This past session was not an exception, and in fact, deserves an exclamation point after that statement. The best analogy I can think of is standing in the middle of a storm, or in this case, maybe a tornado.
Before session started, the weather forecast for Terre Haute’s odds on the gaming bill was cloudy with a chance of rain, but nevertheless, we started preparing to wade the waters and survive the storm with sunshine on the horizon. Thanks to the efforts of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, the “Terre Haute is All In” campaign included a wide-breadth of educational materials equipped with economic data inspiring to those that knew Terre Haute could not only use a shot in the arm, but was also well-positioned next to the Illinois border to boost Indiana’s gaming economy. In addition, over thirty support letters flooded the campaign organizers from city and county officials to public safety professionals to union labor groups, prepared to support the efforts and work together to bring this opportunity to Terre Haute.
The journey included hearings in the Senate in front of Public Policy and Appropriations, and two additional votes on the Senate floor; hearings in the House in front of Public Policy and Ways and Means, and two additional votes on the House floor; a conference committee hearing; signatures on the conference committee report; Senate Rules Committee; House Rules Committee; then back to both floors for final votes on the conference committee report. Every day, every step provided new challenges. Was the next turn going to bring sunshine or hail damage?
The best moments included the community coming together. At every turn, the people of Terre Haute were willing to help. Some made the drive five and six times, often last minute and with little warning. Due to the rapid change in the radar, sometimes watches became warnings in a very short window. A highlight was the bus that arrived at the front doors of the Statehouse with over 50 Terre Haute supporters and approximately 50 more that arrived in their own vehicles. The hallways of the Statehouse were filled with Terre Haute residents and signs that read “Terre Haute is All In.” In my time in Terre Haute, I’ve never seen such a display of collaboration, commitment and coming together by my community. The sun shined the brightest in those moments.
Those who didn’t want us to be successful often made it hard. On those days, you had to choose to either find shelter or sandbag as fast as you could in rain gear and hope lightning didn’t strike. Those people and groups included communities trying to protect their own gaming assets or other operators who were protecting their already standing operations. We chose to fight with facts, figures and the emotional appeal of a community ready for change. In our case, taking shelter would’ve only made it easier for them to be successful.
When you’re in the middle of a storm, your mind naturally thinks to take shelter. Fight or flight reactions become normal, and you make quick, instinctive decisions to protect you and the ones you care about. This past session, we fought bad rain, wind, hail and flooding. We, the lobbyists, became meteorologists. The people in the community were left standing with new hope for the future. Terre Haute’s forecast appears to be sunny with mild temperatures, not just because a new casino could bring new money and jobs, but because we learned to not only survive a storm together, but stand in one, together.
As we conclude a community planning process, it is right to be excited about the future. If we take on the priorities together, through less storms than we’ve already faced, imagine the possibilities. You don’t have to be a fan of gaming to celebrate this win. The celebration is that of the people – you.
In the words of Louise May Alcott, “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” Terre Haute has a new sail and is learning how to use it. Watch out world! The meteorologists at RJL Solutions see a lot of sunshine and starry nights in the days ahead.
Over 500 companies who work within the defense sector at every level, product and service type, belong to the organization in the state.
NDIA is a 501(c)3 corporate and individual membership association that engages thoughtful and innovative leaders to promote the best policies, practices, products and technology to build a more responsive and collaborative community in support of defense and national security.
“I’m happy to be working alongside amazing leaders in the industry who believe in the NDIA mission, collaboration, competition and seek success, together. We are reorganizing our state efforts, which will take everyone working toward a single focus of Indiana companies and higher education institutions meeting the needs of the defense industry. Currently Indiana boasts a $6.5 billion defense economic impact,” stated Leslie.
After a year-long certification process, Betsy Peperak, director of strategic communications at RJL Solutions, is officially Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) certified through the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs (OCRA).
“I’m definitely looking forward to being able to provide this service to clients,” states Peperak. “We work closely with rural communities in and around West Central Indiana, and there is such a need for this. RJL Solutions is proud to be able to provide this support to those communities and help them get their share of the available funding.”
Terre Haute is surrounded by non-entitlement communities, which are eligible to receive funds through these planning and construction grants for specific projects. OCRA’s CDBG program supports Wastewater Drinking Water, Stormwater Improvements, Public Facilities, Blight Clearance and Main Street Revitalization projects in rural communities.
Due to the complexity of the program, only those who have a current certification are able to write and administer these specific federally-funded grants. The certification process takes place over the course of a year, with four required sessions, some of which are three days long, culminating in a two-part project-like exam to receive the certification.
Peperak holds a Master of Arts in professional writing from Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and a Bachelor of Science degree in English teaching from Indiana State University. She was awarded a Presidential Graduate Assistantship while obtaining her graduate degree at EIU, where her master’s thesis focused on grant writing. In February 2018, she joined the first fully-online Master of Leadership Development cohort at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and added a second master's degree to her list of accomplishments in February 2019.
As Director of Strategic Communications at RJL Solutions, Betsy is responsible for leading the development of strategic communications programs and elevating the profile of RJL Solutions and its clients. Her department provides services in grant writing, research and data analysis, web design, branding, social media marketing and more.
The time is now for rural communities to hold hands and walk together.
The state of Indiana is shining light on rural communities, perhaps more than ever before. Governor Eric Holcomb, Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, IEDC President Elaine Bedel, United States Department of Agriculture Director Michael Dora and members of the General Assembly have all underscored the significance of investing in rural Indiana.
Sitting in West Central Indiana with only minutes of driving between six counties east of the Indiana/Illinois border, rural represents various ideas from outdoor recreation on trails, waterways and a nationally-known bike park, to farming and hidden eateries on back country roads. The unique downtown developments that encompass both historical buildings and new infrastructure add to the niche market for visitors. Without having to look, it’s easy to consider known rural hubs such as Santa Claus (Holiday World) and Monticello (Indiana Beach). The millions spent to attract visitors in those areas were developed and funded by private investors, as the popular jingles tell us, we are “The Best in the Midwest” and “There is more than corn in Indiana.” Of course there are many more including French Lick (Miracle Waters and Casino), yet still privately developed and marketed by the Cook Family. So as a benchmark, if private investors are the jewels to big marketing spends and known tourist commodities, how do rural communities attract more?
”Capitalizing on some Sunday reading time, I found different articles that do a deep dive into how investors make their community choices. The centreforcities.org developed a study titled “What Investors Want.” It outlined the expected outcomes such as: economic fundamentals, city governance, practicalities of investment and broke down each segment to explain additional rationale. One section, titled “Pro-investment city leadership” described a community’s readiness to be competitive. It made me consider the millions upon millions of dollars it takes for a community to be competitive. First, a community must develop a community-ready mentality for growth, and second it must market its best assets.
So, this is where our state leadership comes into play.
Within the last few years the state has made significant investments in transportation, workforce development, regional development, and initiated new funding programs through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Most recently they’ve shared new investment strategies through the Governor’s Next Level initiative with innovation, broadband and trail funding. They’re encouraging a regional approach to competing for these funds. It seems for rural communities to be more successful they need to figure out how to get along with their neighbors. So, the time is now for rural communities to hold hands and walk together.
Basic steps for success.
West Central Indiana.
My home is full of outdoor recreational opportunities key to my region. Recently, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce established West Central 2025 drawing attention to the region’s shared assets. The SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) were more alike than some expected. The points of shared understanding and opportunity opened up new conversations for collaboration. Through that process they determined three, key focus areas – broadband, trails and downtown development. Each of these areas are selling points for developers – internet access (fast and reliable), outdoor recreation (attracting visitors) and quality of life (attracting residents/workforce). Each of these play a role in the foundation of a community ready to attract private investment.
Remember, “There is more than corn in Indiana,” certainly that is the case in West Central Indiana. However, there is no doubt we admire our farmers and their families for serving in the agriculture industry, day-in and day-out.
Let’s consider just some of our tourism assets.
West Central Indiana is finding their way. It’s not easy creating new relationships, strengthening established relationships and building trust. However, it seems the collective bodies establish the best competitive edge for what the state is making available. The investments made by the state, aligned with local/regional planning and funding are what creates the story. The story, matched with leaders ready to work with private investors, are the cherry on the top. The private investors who spend money to attract those visitors and growing assets is what creates the best and most memorable destinations.
As rural communities determine where they belong in the regional landscape, begin crossing county lines, sharing information and developing competitive plans to collaborate with the state, its private investment that makes every dollar go farther.
RJL Solutions, an advocacy and marketing firm in Terre Haute, recently hired three student interns for the spring semester: Maryem Salam, MBA Exchange Program, Indiana State University; Lucille Utterback, senior at Indiana State University; and Olivia Wells, junior at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
“RJL Solutions is equipped to provide unique experiences for local students, and we love hosting student talent at our firm,” states Partner Rachel Leslie. “Internships are a reciprocal relationship in which, when done correctly, both parties benefit. We couldn’t be more excited to bring these three young women to our team for the next 5 months."
Maryem Salam, of Morocco, will serve as the Strategic Communications intern, bringing expertise in market research and data analysis to the team. Salam, as part of the MBA Exchange Program in the Scott College of Business at ISU, is pursuing a master’s degree in marketing at the National School of Business and Management in Settat, Morocco. Salam speaks four languages and completed three internships in Morocco where she developed her market research and data analysis skills.
“I hope this internship will allow me to acquire digital marketing expertise and to sharpen my data analytics and market research skills,” states Salam. “The team spirit, collaboration and professionalism of the members of RJL Solutions are what makes me so excited to start this adventure.”
After graduating this year with her master’s degree, Salam hopes to start her own marketing consulting firm.
Lucille Utterback, of Terre Haute, will serve as the Advocacy intern and will have the opportunity to join RJL Solutions lobbyists, Rachel Leslie and Jenn Kersey, at the Statehouse on various occasions during the legislative session. Utterback is majoring in Human Resources Development, with a double minor in Marketing and Business Administration. She has served as the Director of Philanthropy and Think Pink Chairwoman of Zeta Tau Alpha for the past three years, which included fundraising efforts that raised over $10,000 for Breast Cancer Education and Awareness.
“I am thrilled to be able to work with this team,” states Utterback. “I am excited to accompany the Advocacy team and provide assistance during the legislative session.”
Utterback hopes to attend graduate school in the next five years after pursuing a career in human resources, marketing, or event coordination.
Olivia Wells, of Marshall, Illinois, will serve as the Marketing intern and will be responsible for assisting with the internal marketing of RJL Solutions including graphic design, website updates, social media management, e-newsletter, and other digital marketing needs. Wells is a double major in Business Administration and Marketing, and a double minor in Human Resource Management and Leadership Development. She has served on several committees at SMWC including the I Love Le Fer Committee, the Out of the Woods Committee, and the Mascot Committee, and is currently serving as President of Phi Beta Lambda at SMWC, which is a club for business-minded individuals who focus on leadership development.
“Through this internship, I hope to strengthen my professional skills while learning more about the business community of Terre Haute,” states Wells. “I am most excited to be working with a team of influential women while expanding my knowledge about marketing.”
Wells will graduate in 2020 and plans to pursue her MBA degree upon graduation.
BY SUE LOUGHLIN TRIBUNE-STAR
Jenn Kersey wants to make a difference in her community, and that desire, along with a strong work ethic, positive attitude and perseverance, are qualities that make her an emerging leader in West Central Indiana. It also has led to her being honored in the 12 Under 40 program, which each year recognizes a dozen professionals 40 or younger who are making valuable contributions at work and/or through volunteerism.
Kersey, 39, is chief operations officer at RJL Solutions, an advocacy and communications firm in downtown Terre Haute. Her job duties involve overseeing staff and business operations, and she also serves as a lobbyist and consultant.
Rachel Leslie, partner in RJL Solutions, nominated Kersey “because she is extraordinary. When I interviewed her for a job while at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, she was anxious to make a difference, but had a reluctant confidence. I learned in a short time that her incredible work habits, perseverance, and attention to detail would always set her up for success.”
Leslie also learned that the reluctant confidence “was not that at all, but a shift in her life. Jenn was a highly successful representative for a pharmaceutical company when she learned her first born was diagnosed with autism. It was evident to me she made the choice to make him first priority while taking a step back on the career ladder with grace. I watched her find a new talent for juggling. She learned how to make her family first, advance her career, get involved in the community and serve as an advocate for autism. She is undoubtedly a superwoman,” Leslie said.
In past roles, Kersey has served as executive director of the Vigo County YMCA and she was director of events and strategic programs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. While at the Woods, she was instrumental in development of the college’s wellness and sports marketing programs. Her background is in health and wellness and she also has a master’s in leadership development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College with a focus on the nonprofit sector. In one interview, she described herself as “a problem solver.”
In a nomination survey, she wrote, “I love making others smile. I try to stay positive in all situations and look for the best in every scenario. I am proud of my work ethic and the fact that I always remain true to myself.” Being named one of this year’s 12 Under 40 “is an honor, especially knowing several of the past and current recipients; being placed in the same category as them is quite a privilege,” she said.
Kersey said she is motivated by any challenge “because I see it as an opportunity to make a difference. I am inspired by others who have faced adversity with dedication, grace, and humbleness and have been positive role models for others.” Among her future goals, she wants to continue to be an advocate “for our communities and those living here in order for us to all have the opportunities and quality of life we deserve.”
She’s had several leadership roles including the Parke County Community Foundation’s board of directors and has been a volunteer since 2007. She has been a member of Better Health Wabash Valley since 2014, where she enjoys collaborating with other organizations in the Wabash Valley that have the same passion for healthy living.
A native of Rockville, she is an advocate for rural communities and has attended several training seminars through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) to better serve rural counties in West Central Indiana. In 2018, she was recognized in the Emerging Leaders Project, a non-profit that offers free training to up-and-coming young Hoosier Democratic leaders who have an interest in running for office or working on campaigns. She was the only 2018 Emerging Leader from West Central Indiana.
Kersey, whose son, Couper, has autism, also sits on the Foundation for Autism Resources community advisory council, where she assists with outreach, planning, and fundraising. As an autism advocate, Kersey has worked with state legislators to improve access to Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy to those on the autism spectrum. In the 2018 legislative session, she testified on behalf of Senate Resolution 21, which urged the legislative council to assign the topic of autism and public education to the appropriate study committee. “The passing of the bill was due in part to the conversation she had been having with legislators on autism and education since 2016. The resolution was successful, and the summer study committee was assigned for 2018,” Leslie wrote in a nomination letter.
Kersey says that as the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, “I learned early on the importance of advocating for my son to ensure he had the same opportunities that all children deserve. As for issues that need to be addressed, I think the continued education to our public to be sure they are inclusive to all children with special needs during events such as parades, movies, concerts, etc. is very important. I have been touched by the outreach I have received from community leaders during these types of events in Terre Haute such as the sensory friendly area during the Light Your Way Christmas Parade and the Sensitive Santa at the Meadows shopping center.”
While Kersey enjoys her career and volunteering in the community, she loves being a mother to sons Couper and James and sharing that responsibility with her husband, Kyle. They live in Parke County, where Kyle is principal at Riverton Parke Junior/Senior High School.