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.