Jennifer Schimmel: 33
Executive Director, Greater Springfield Habitat for HumanityThe plot of Jennifer Schimmel’s life has taken some unexpected twists.
“I actually had a degree in fine and performing arts, and I always envisioned I’d spend most of my life on stage,” she said. But when she took a job with Lenox-based Shakespeare and Co. in a fund-raising capacity, she found she had a knack for raising money.
That took her to similar positions at Hartford Seminary, an interfaith graduate school, and then the Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity, two faith-based organizations whose missions spoke to her own values.
She eventually accepted the position of executive director at the Greater Springfield Habitat, where she has used her fund-raising and event-planning background to oversee a 113% increase in unrestricted donations to support the mission of providing home-ownership opportunities to low-income families, as well as a 127% jump in special-event support and a 30% increase in volunteer participation.
Those are impressive results, but Schimmel insists she’s the one who is inspired.
“I love getting to know the families, knowing that our families work hard for what they achieve,” she said. “The motto at Habitat is ‘a hand up, not a handout,’ and I love being here; we’re cheerleaders, a support system, educators — but the families do it all for themselves. We guide them, but they really take control of the process.”
Schimmel is committed to supporting Habitat’s efforts internationally as well. She’s certified with the organization’s Global Village Program and will lead a group of 11 people to Guatemala this fall to work with a family in need of affordable shelter — her second such trip. “It’s a life-changing experience,” she said.
Overall, Schimmel simply wants to make a difference, and she was frank with board members of Greater Springfield Habitat when she interviewed for the job.
“I said, ‘if I’m not right for the position, that’s OK — I’d rather go and be a waitress and pay my bills that way and spend my free time devoted to community service if that’s the right thing to do,’” she said. “This job is not about making a paycheck; it’s about making a difference.”
— Joseph Bednar