In fact, it’s this passion to help others that led Jess to a career in banking. In 2007, fresh out of high school, Jess took a job as a part-time teller at a tiny local bank. But she soon fell in love with the industry.
“I really loved meeting people in my community, connecting with them, and talking to them about how they could stretch their finances further – so I ended up staying in banking,” she shared with a laugh.
Over the next decade, she worked her way up the chain before eventually landing a role as a Market Leader with First Merchants Bank in 2019. And the first thing she did? Figure out how to use her position to help her community prosper.
“I always really loved volunteering, and First Merchants has a great dedication to helping lift up its communities, so I started organizing a quarterly team volunteer day,” she said.
Once each quarter, Jess and her direct reports picked a local organization and spent a day helping out. It started with Habitat for Humanity, but the scope quickly expanded into something more.
“I didn’t want it to be, ‘Oh, well this is something Jess is passionate about, but I have no connection to,’” she shared. “That mindset makes it an obligation, not something to be excited about. So, I let my team members choose. They talk it over and pick the organization and the project – and they take turns so that everyone gets to work on something they’re passionate about.”
Before she knew it, the idea caught on, and banking center managers in her region began doing the same for their own teams. But Jess’s volunteer efforts don’t stop after working hours are over.
“I love doing things that ‘fill your bucket’ so to speak,” she said. “You know, meeting people in the community you don’t normally meet, or getting to connect with people on a different level and in a different context.”
Jess is proud to serve as a member of the Pine Valley Community Association Board, where she helps manage and improve her own neighborhood. But she also works with the Community Harvest Food Bank, helps with events at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, and serves on the Marketing and Development Board for the YWCA, Fort Wayne’s local women and children’s shelter.
“The YWCA is something that’s really important to me, because for a long time the women’s shelter in Fort Wayne was hidden – so there was really a drive to let people know that there was a shelter for women and children who needed it and a lot of resources,” Jess explained. “I’m really happy to be part of a team elevating its reach in our community.”
She’s even dabbled in politics with a recent campaign for her local Board of Education.
“I didn’t win, and I think that was a blessing,” she shared with a laugh. “I found out I don’t like politics—I just want to help people.”
And while her volunteerism “fills her bucket” – and won her recent recognition from the Indiana Bankers Association as a 2022 Woman on the Rise – Jess also has another reason for her community activism.
“I have small children and I want them to see what it’s like to thrive – not just as a professional, but as a whole person,” she explained. “Because no matter how successful you are at your job, no matter what title you hold, no one is going to remember that when you’re gone. They’re not going to remember what you did for a paycheck. They’re going to remember what you did out of the goodness of your heart.”