Welcome to the second installment of the Community Spotlight! These posts highlight some of the amazing work that people are doing within their communities at home, abroad, and everywhere in-between.
Today, I am featuring a personal finance blogger who’s built her life around volunteering and giving back to her community: Jillian Johnsrud, who blogs over at MontanaMoneyAdventures.com. Her story is absolutely amazing, and her outreach spans across the entire globe.
These posts contain a series of short questions – in bold. Please reach out to Jillian and show her some love for taking her precious time to give back to his community. We need more people like her around.
1: What exactly are you doing within your community?
My husband was in the military so over the last 15 years we have lived in 4 states. But in each place, we have always been drawn to causes involving people. People who others don’t seem to see or often get passed over.
In Idaho, we helped with a food bank for migrant workers. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but it was awesome looking at warm smiles and packing bags of food. We also helped with a youth outreach program. When we married, about 25% of our home guests were teenagers from that program! We just couldn’t say no. My husband was volunteering with the youth group on the day he met me, then he invited all of them when he proposed.
So, of course, they all wanted to be at the wedding.
In DC, we ended up running our own youth program. Mostly helping kids living in poverty or dealing with neglect, drug use or abuse. We also adopted our oldest son while we lived there, a teen from foster care. On our very first date, I asked Adam how he felt about adopting!
It was always part of our plan.
I also volunteered with the organization International Justice Mission. They help provide justice to people around the world facing slavery, sex trafficking or wrongful imprisonment. I loved the work they did so much but have almost no real skills to help in the incredibly challenging work they do. So I started bringing baked goods. For 100 people. I would make biscotti or brownies or chips and guac. I made Easter baskets with gift cards. I made breakfast once. When we had orders to move to Europe, the staff of 120 threw me a going away surprise party. That absolutely incredible team of people gave me a standing ovation and it was one of the most meaningful gestures of my life.
In Germany, I helped start a monthly luncheon for the local homeless. We made it restaurant style and I decorated. A full three-course meal that lasted a couple hours giving volunteers and guests time to get to know each other and spend time together over a nice, relaxed meal.
I also started volunteering with MOPS while in Germany (Moms of Preschoolers). I ended up serving with them for 7 years. Encouraging other moms with young kids towards personal growth and connection.
With that group, I helped organize a Christmas gift drive for an orphanage in Hungry for a few years. We took all the gifts to Hungry and would spend a week in the orphanage with the kids celebrating the holiday. I made some great friendships with the kids there, most of whom would never be adopted, that I continue 8 years later.
When we moved home to Montana, we adopted 3 more kids from foster care. A sibling group who had bounced around far too many times and separated. After a few years in recruiting and training foster parents, my husband left his job in 2016. He volunteers on the board of a local non-profit that serves the local working poor and homeless providing therapy, classes, medication and a host of wrap-around services. I have given talks to local foster parent training groups, youth programs, and head start. We have been very active in the foster and adoptive community and with CASA (court appointed special advocates).
2: How is it impacting your community? Can you recall any success stories?
We try to be people who show up.
We show up financially in our giving. We show up with our time. And we show up in relationships. I’ve seen amazing things happen, beautiful things, but it’s also messy. Sharing life with people who are struggling isn’t like the fundraising pamphlet. I’ve been grateful to be a small part of the story for many people who experienced tremendous personal growth and to encourage those who do the daily work.
The magic is in the small moments like when an IJM staff would have to close their door to cry because the 7 young girls rescued from sex trafficking were just kidnapped out of the recovery shelter and they couldn’t find them, but when she came out to grab another cup of coffee, she saw the three kinds of homemade biscotti I made. That small act of kindness when the enormity of the world’s grief tries to crush us…
Or the teenager I met in the orphanage. She was too old to be adopted, but we let her come visit us in Germany and keep in touch. Over the years, we have supported her financially as she studied German, married and moved for work. It’s an amazing thing to see a girl with no hope or future grow into a successful, thriving adult.
In December, I picked up a couple stuffed animals for the non-profit where my husband serves. The director emailed me a few days after we dropped them off to thank us for the gift. Two little kids had shown up for therapy because their mom had just passed away. In a moment where all the staff felt so overwhelmed and the kid’s hearts were breaking, at least there was a stuffed bear on hand to give them.
One of my life goals is 1000 thank you notes from people I have helped. It is not that I need the thanks (as truly nice as they feel). What they signify is that I am making a significant difference with what gifts I have been given.
I’m at about 100 so far. =)
3: What is your motivation for giving your time?
I grew up under the poverty line. While I had some great people in my life that helped build my resilience, I also have a high ACE score. Every piece of success I’ve experienced, I’ve wanted to share that with others. I know how hard it is to overcome a high ACE score and rise up from poverty. It takes people willing to show up in meaningful ways and programs to provide an opportunity. I try to be both of those for people. Now my blog is just an extension of what I’ve spent my entire life doing. Trying to share anything I’ve learned and support others in their journey.
I shared part of my story and encouragement to a group of teens last year at a skating program. A tough crowd for sure. A few were homeless, a lot had parents who were absent, addicted, or abusive. Kids who had slipped through the cracks.
Not a single one would chat with me when I showed up. No one would look at me. Until I got up and shared my story. Kids who had been addicted to meth as teenagers, and abandoned opened up. The ones living in a camper with no food would share their story. Sometimes we just need someone to show it’s possible. It’s hard as hell. And their journey will be 4x as hard.
But, there is hope.
4: Where can people find out more about what you’re doing?
The very best way to find out more is through my newsletter. http://www.montanamoneyadventures.com/our-story/.
Everything I do goes through there. On my site I focus on creating financial freedom and intentional lifestyle design. After 1000 conversations with people from all walks of life, I’ve found we all need a little encouragement, clarity, and help to live out our very best life.
It’s easy to say, “I wish my life looked a bit more like….” But it takes time, intention, and purpose to slowly custom build that life. No matter if it’s building a business, creating impact, growing our financial freedom, or designing a lifestyle that is a perfect fit. With my newsletter, you can always reach me by replying to any email I send.
Wait, don’t leave yet!
Do you know someone who might be right for a Community Spotlight feature? I am looking for folks who are active in their communities and making a difference. And, they need to be willing to “talk” (aka: write) about it in this kind of format. Maybe YOU are that person? Contact me.
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.