What do you get when you have a Uvalda native who’s been transplanted to the Boro a couple of times and who suddenly finds herself with an empty nest? You have someone who heeded the call to step up and give of herself to others — and found herself in the process.
Jennifer Sammons Davis says she came to Statesboro originally to attend Georgia Southern University. Her brother was here, and it “was a good place for me to be.” After marrying for the first time, Davis moved to Athens, but the couple soon decided they wanted to return to the Boro to be near family.
Davis transferred to a local position with the Extension service, where she worked with Karen Lavender. She had not declared a major in college, but found through her work at the Extension office that she enjoyed Information Technology.
“I really enjoyed it and it kind of clicked with me,” she said. She soon was advised to apply for an IT position with AgSouth, which she didn’t think she’d get. But she did, and she’s been there for 26 years.
“AgSouth is like my family. It’s an arm of my body almost at this point,” she said.
Davis and her first husband divorced when her son, Spencer, was 4. As a “tweenager,” he went to live with his dad in order to spend time with his new younger brother. So after her son’s move to Macon, Davis found herself with an empty nest.
“I found myself empty-nesting way before I had anticipated. So I was already a workaholic, and my life completely revolved around my son and work. I wasn’t plugged into the community. I had my small group of friends and didn’t really get out. I didn’t have time for it,” she said. “But I was like, oh my gosh. I’ve got this big hole in my life. And I tried to fill it with more work. I found myself burning out really quickly.”
After being nominated for Leadership Bulloch, Davis found herself plunged into activities that sparked a connection with her community and those who call it home.
“It was a catalyst that sparked this servant heart that I didn’t know I had,” she said.
Each of the Leadership Bulloch classes is required to do a project, and her class determined that they didn’t want their project to be a one-and-done kind of thing. They wanted something that would leave a legacy for the community.
After much discussion and hearing from charitable organizations, the class determined that they wanted to do something for Open Hearts Community Mission — and the Chocolate Run was born. The first year, they hoped for a couple hundred runners and to raise $10,000. On the day of the race, however, 700 runners showed up.
Davis says the race has continued since then and is now in its eighth year. Members from the original class are still involved. Open Hearts now has a building that sits on property that the Chocolate Run helped to raise funds for. To date, the race has raised more than $180,000.
“People keep showing up because they can see the structure and hear the amazing stories of lives being changed as people are given a hand up, not a hand out,” she said. “I think the way Delia (Mobley) runs the place is what makes people, it just attracts them to it. Because it’s run in a way that is loving and caring and guiding and teaching them how to walk.”
Davis says the run is amazing every year. And her involvement there led to her being asked to help with the Pink Power Run, which benefits the Breast Cancer Foundation. Working with the two races showed Davis that she has a talent for coordinating, she says. And those two events led her to Darron Burnette, who asked her to help with Rockin’ Out for Alzheimer’s. Burnette told her they needed someone to do social media promotion and help with the website, and Davis jumped right in.
“It’s almost like, I’ve been placed where I needed to be, I’ve always felt, by God in my life. It’s kind of interesting how one little gap in my life has just blossomed. I have not only found that I have a servant heart that I didn’t know I had, it has helped me to raise my son to have a servant heart, which is very important to me. It’s just come back to me, 10 times,” she said.
Mobley, who nominated Davis for Everyday Hero, says Davis is one of the key reasons the Chocolate Run is such a success, pointing to the countless hours she spends working on it.
“Even if she’s on a trip overseas, I’m never surprised when I get an e-mail from her. Her extracurricular life centers around raising money for the good of this community,” Mobley said. “She is passionate about the mission and has spent countless hours in helping us raise necessary funds for building the mission and sustaining it. Jennifer’s dedication to the cause meant so much to the Board of Directors that we named the main hub room of our building the ‘Jennifer Davis Administrative Office.’ “
Chandler Dennard, Rockin’ Out for Alzheimer’s, says Davis has also been an integral part of that committee.
“Quite frankly, we would not have accomplished our level of giving to Alzheimer’s research without her,” he said. “She has handled the promotion of every event we have put on for the last seven years. She has done it all. She is one of the most creative people I have ever been around. I don’t know where our foundation would be without her.”
Dennard says that from a personal standpoint, he just can’t find anyone who has a more giving spirit and heart than Davis.
“Jennifer lives by the words of Christ, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ She is truly a giver,” he added.
Davis’ involvement in the community has also led her to a wonderful circle of friends that she says are there for her no matter what she might need. She has also remarried. She and her husband, Matt, enjoy watching college football and traveling.
“I have met some of my best friends through all of this,” she said, adding that years ago, when she went to a restaurant, she wouldn’t have known anyone. Now, she seems to hug everyone she sees, and her husband teases her about that.
“Its people I would have never had met, that are really just amazing people. I’m a strong believer in a tribe that lifts you up. And I wouldn’t have had that had I not gotten plugged in. It’s just a larger tribe that I didn’t know was out there,” she said.
Davis is fully aware of the importance of the events and the impact they have on the community. She says the Chocolate Race is, for example, a fun way to shine a light on a dark problem, and she says that homelessness isn’t an issue you can readily see in Bulloch County.
“It brought light to my eyes. I’d always heard there were homeless people that lived behind Kmart. But you didn’t see them walking up and down the streets,” she said. “It’s easy to stereotype homelessness and being drug addicts who just made their own beds. Or rough ones that kind of went down their own path. There is that, but a lot of these people, you’d be amazed. It’s people that have jobs and have homes and have things, but hard times fell on them. That could happen to anybody. We should help them, too.”
Davis says that having Open Hearts in the community offers a way to solve the problem and offer help without “bringing in the negative that it can do sometimes.”
As for being called an Everyday Hero, Davis says she was surprised.
“I’m very humbled. What I do is not hard. It just takes some time and a commitment to do it. It’s something that just seems like a part of me now,” she said.
Everyone goes through different seasons in their lives, and Davis says that giving back has filled a hole in her life.
“It has rewarded me 10-fold in return,” she said. “It taught my son compassion and how to be compassionate in giving. I’m proud of him and how he treats people. He’s very kind and respectful of people.” Mobley says the community — and Open Hearts — is blessed to have this one of a kind giver.
“Jennifer’s service to the mission blesses countless people every single day and it doesn’t go unnoticed,” Mobley said. “Luke 6:38 says, ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ I know God will bless Jennifer for her obedient heart.”
Do you know someone who is an Everyday Hero? E-mail our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us all about him or her…we’d love to feature your hero in an upcoming issue!