Franklin Tomorrow’s Volunteer Spirit Award Winner
Tuesday evening, November 17th, 2020 a small group of us gathered together to view the virtual award show presented by Franklin Tomorrow. Our interest was great in this presentation, as Franklin Tomorrow was recognizing several volunteer superstars in our community ~ one of which was nominated by My Friend's House, Ms. Jennifer Leonard. Much to our delight she was selected as one of 4 recipients of the Volunteer Spirit Award this year! We are so proud of her and wanted to share more of why we thought she was such a worthy nominee! Below is our nomination letter.
Ms. Jennifer Leonard has volunteered at My Friend’s House long before any of our current staff were employed there, but she came back around in a very intentional and consistent way in 2017. It began innocently enough with her wanting to provide a meal for our Chef for the Night program, in which an individual or group plans a meal and comes on-site to cook and eat with the boys. Her small group from church, Walker Memorial Baptist, became a staple every month, providing delicious meals, friendship and encouragement to the eight boys at My Friend’s House.
Her interest in the boys at MFH grew with each month, as her heart was long-ago committed to helping and serving children in foster care and/or state custody. This cause is one near-and-dear to her as foster care played an integral role in forming her own family. Jennifer soon met with us wanting to lead the boys in monthly fitness classes. What started as a once-a-month get together, quickly grew to an every-other Saturday class. She would meet with the boys under staff supervision at a local park or gym to bring to them a regular fitness program, all while continuing monthly dinners with her small group.
She then approached us about doing ‘Skill Set Saturdays’ with the boys. Once a month she would present to the boys a ‘skill’ for independent living, i.e. sewing, baking, simple DIY house projects and easy car maintenance. She sweetened the gig by offering to prepare a meal and get a movie for them afterwards. This naturally grew to her wanting to provide special events/meals around holidays for the boys and staff. She would prepare an Easter dinner and hide eggs, have a July 4th picnic for them or make special Halloween goodies or invite them for a special Christmas dinner, complete with presents collected from her co-workers, family and friends.
My Friend’s House speaks to Jennifer’s heart, not only from the perspective of her own family, but also in the ability to encourage the boys to know that today’s circumstances do not define their future. One of her personal mottos is, “We can do hard things.” And she speaks it often to the boys to remind them that the situation does not define you – you can work hard and believe in yourself. Yes, it is hard, but you can do it and you are worth it.
She does all of this while raising her daughter, helping her parents and a legion of friends. In 2019, she was awarded with My Friend’s House Golden Gallon Award which goes to our Volunteer of the Year. But it doesn’t stop there. She is now brainstorming ways to help support young adults aging out of the foster care system, which is an enormous problem with no quick solutions.
Jennifer is a very active member at her church. She teaches ladies bible study and is passionate about seeing women realize their worth and finding their identity in Christ. She’s currently working on a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Williamson Christian College.
She supports the Middle Tennessee Down Syndrome Association and participates in their Buddy Walk each year in honor and celebration of a sweet friend. She is an advocate and champion for students with special needs. She has volunteered in what seems like 1,000 places.
Her closest friends will tell you she is the best friend and encourager they know. She excels at seeing needs, showing up and making a difference. She’s not afraid of how messy a situation might be, she’ll sit right in the mess with you and see you through it.
And if that is not enough, Jennifer and her family actively support Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as this is also very personal for them after losing her sister Steffanie to a drunk driver’s negligence. She strongly believes in second chances and forgiveness and has even encouraged and ministered to the woman who took her sister’s life in that accident. She’s truly remarkable.
So, it is with great privilege that we nominate this wonderful woman, friend and advocate for the Volunteer Spirit Award. I am certain there are many worthy volunteers in our great community, but her spirit and love shine through in all she is involved in, and her genuine care and concern show in every aspect of her life. She has been such a patient, understanding and loving friend to our residents and a great encourager to our staff, in short, she is a blessing to all who know her.