By Katie Ginn

Editor’s note: For this year’s Women’s Issue, we’re highlighting eight women who serve Jesus on staff at Jackson Leadership Foundation (JLF). 

JLF partners with Christian ministry leaders in Jackson who do everything from mentoring youth to loving on grieving mothers. JLF provides leadership training, volunteer and donor connections, and incubation and back-office support – all so the ministry leaders can be more effective in their missions, and so the city can be transformed.

In addition to the leadership of JLF Executive Director Samuel Bolen, the diverse board of directors, and the men on staff, the women on these pages have impacted Jackson in ways that cannot be measured. They recently spoke with me about their ministries, their callings, and why they’re compelled to serve our capital city.

Candace Robins

Candace Robins

Her role: JLF director of programs

Her background: Born and raised in Jackson, Candace is a proud mother of four, a graduate of Jackson State University, and a longtime ministry leader in the metro area. She is pursuing a master of arts with an emphasis in intercultural city ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Her calling: Empowering other people. I love to see people win.

What helps her fulfill that calling: I just enjoy work. I’m an extrovert. And (JLF) has become my second home. I feel safe coming here. We’re family. We’ve grieved together, celebrated together. And we’re doing groundbreaking work in the city. I love Jackson, and I want to be all invested.

I create systems so people can have the best version of me. I take breaks between meetings so I can listen to music or take a walk. I work hard, but I also play hard and rest hard – every day.

Why Jackson? This is home for me. I enjoy the food and the people. I remember when west Jackson and south Jackson were thriving. (So) just to see the developments that are happening (today), the conversations that are happening, I’m very optimistic. (I keep saying) the line from Hamilton, ‘Just you wait!’

Kashea Rogers

Kashea Rogers

Her role: JLF development director

Her background: Born and raised in Jackson, Kashea attended both Jackson State and Belhaven University and has nearly 20 years of fundraising experience. She and her husband, Rodney, have three sons and are members of True Vine Baptist Church.

Her calling: I love talking to people, learning about people, and advocating for people. I’ve always found myself in roles where I have to advocate for those in need. Even personally, having a child with special needs, using my voice to advocate for (him).

What helps her fulfill that calling: No day is going to go exactly as you imagine. So I think (it’s important to make) sure we are in a good space, even if it is walking away – walk over to your neighbor’s office and ask a question instead of emailing them. Take a five-minute break to look at pictures of your kids.

Why Jackson? When you remember (Jackson in) the ’80s, and to see now all the advancements that have taken place in everything from technology to businesses that have come here, all the ministries and nonprofits … At JLF, we’re not only helping those (ministries) but we are actually adding unity back into the community.

Sarah Myers

Sarah Myers

Her role: JLF communications specialist and office manager

Her background: Hailing from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Sarah came to the metro to attend Mississippi College and met her husband, George, who is completing his education at MC Law. They are members of Fondren Church.

Her calling: The answer changes frequently. But currently, I’ve seen how communication and relationships with other people have impacted my faith. Right now I’m trying to hone in on that communication part. (I want) to give a voice to people who feel like they don’t have a voice or have the words. I’ve loved taking that voice that JLF already has and putting a microphone behind it.

What helps her fulfill that calling: I took a Gallup StrengthsFinder (test), and a lot of my top strengths were connectedness, communication, activator, restorative. To waste that, to me, is such a burden. If my task for today was to post on our social media, well, I posted (the) Facebook post that got Crystal (Smith) here. … Look what God can do with something so small.

Even ordering Diet Cokes and Coke Zeros for the fridge, you know, for that 2 p.m. slump … I see how those little things get you through your day. (I love) caffeine in general. And I love checking things off a list. Time blocking is very important to me, and making sure I don’t overthink. And getting eight hours of sleep.

Why Jackson? I had only visited Jackson once when I came to Mississippi College. And now since I started college, I have only visited the coast once. … Every person who makes up the population of Jackson cares about the next person.

Felecia Marshall

Felecia Marshall

Her role: Program director, Grant Me Justice. Grant Me Justice operates under JLF’s 501c3 and ministers to families who’ve lost loved ones to violence.

Her background: Felecia grew up in different parts of the metro, including Jackson’s historic Farish Street district, and graduated from Southern Technical College before continuing her studies at Jackson State University and Unity Theological Seminary. Felecia is a proud wife, mother and grandmother.

Why Grant Me Justice? March 14, 2017, my daughter was murdered here in Jackson. … It took three years to finish the legal process. The day I walked out of the last plea deal, I knew there were probably other families who felt the way I felt.

I felt like the system didn’t care. And I wanted people to know my baby. So I decided I was going to interview families and give them an opportunity to talk about their children … But the Lord had (a bigger) plan, and Grant Me Justice was born. … We just want to be a safe place for those families.

We try to meet the needs … from walking a family through the funeral process to all of the documentation associated with the state of Mississippi; it could be counseling, it could be direct support, it could be awareness.

Why come under JLF’s 501c3? Initially I was a standalone 501c3 … I was also working a full-time job. I was struggling with board representation, back-office support … Now I don’t have to worry about those things.

Her calling: I think my calling is to the least of these. I think I’m in God’s perfect will right now ministering to the brokenhearted.

What helps her fulfill that calling: I want to hear the Lord say, ‘Well done.’ The families that I serve (are) depending on me, sometimes just to make a phone call. And my baby (motivates me). My baby’s life.

I have hot tea every morning. And I have to do my devotional in the morning. I have a puppy who drives me crazy. And my grandchildren.

Why Jackson? I love the richness and the culture of Jackson. (Jackson) is ripe for ministry and being able to see the presence of God. … I’m not saying you can’t have an encounter with Him anywhere. (But) the beauty of ministry is here in the city of Jackson, and I believe God is in (that).

Kateri Gill

Kateri Gill

Her role: Facilitator, Hope Exchange. Hope Exchange operates under JLF’s 501c3 and teaches Faith and Finances and Work Life, two classes that help participants work toward a better future. Hope Exchange also trains churches in how to engage with the poor in meaningful ways.

Her background: Kateri came to Jackson to attend Belhaven, and the rest is history! She and her husband, Levi, have three kids and are active members of Redeemer Church, PCA.

Why Hope Exchange? We really just saw the needs in our city – the need for job development and also for financial literacy. We got trained in Work Life, which is strictly a job preparedness ministry. However, it really turned us on to a holistic idea of caring for people. It not only includes the soft skills and resume work but it also addresses people’s emotional life. Because of that, we also got trained in Faith and Finances, the sister curriculum.

Then we realized we needed a place to be with people (in community beyond the classes). So we host a Wednesday night community group gathering (at Redeemer most weeks) of the year. That provides a bolstering effect for the curriculum. People’s lives aren’t changed by curriculum. They’re changed by God in community.

Her calling: Everything lately has been centered around proximity. Having purchased a home and living in a community with need – that has transformed my life. Doing programs that put us constantly in proximity to the participants. (That’s) what Jesus did. He came, and He was proximate to people.

What helps her fulfill that calling: One thing that my family and I have really been trying to work through is all the little details of how to have a Sabbath.

Then there’s (this) yearly liturgical calendar and devotion, and we do that every morning, even our little kids. (laughs) No matter what’s going on. Right now we’re in Easter-tide, and we’re continuing to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Living and remembering the whole story of Jesus throughout the year has been really helpful to me.

Why Jackson? When I visited Belhaven (University for college), there was a warmness … a personableness, a specificity to the way people interacted with me. I thought, this is where I’m supposed to be. Then when I served in youth ministry at Redeemer, my group was 11th-grade girls (who) all went to Murrah. And it was through that, and dropping them off at their homes, these girls to me became what Jackson was. Jackson is made up of its people.

Emily Hardin

Emily Hardin

Her role: Program director, Red Door Jackson, JLF’s youth mentoring program

Her background: A Houston, Texas native, Emily has been in Jackson since 2005 and might even root for Jackson State over Texas A&M now (maybe). She and her husband, Van, have three sons.

Why Red Door? (Van and I) were part of a small church plant in 2005 (and) we hosted a Bible study (for kids) at the park. After several years of that, the group realized, we believe in the holistic gospel, caring for the whole person. School and academics can be such a weight … So we began tutoring children in our neighborhood.

Nothing good happens without relationships. We were able to build deeper relationships with parents, honor their position as the expert on their child, and also build relationships with kids. We realized a few years later we could take that a step further by embracing the mentoring model … We can (ask parents), what is your child experiencing right now, what do you feel like they need?

I’ve always heard that discipleship is leaving people with a better understanding of Christ after you’ve been together, and that’s one of our hopes through mentoring.

Why did Red Door dissolve its 501c3 and become a program of JLF? God used the pandemic to show me (that) I could get the job done, but at the detriment of myself, my family, and Red Door … Through conversations with (my friends) DeSean Dyson and Christina Dent, God used them to help me see that change was possible.

When I brought the idea of coming under JLF (to my Red Door board), there was just a peace that descended over the room.

Her calling: I am naturally designed to be a teacher and encourager. I’m compelled by the idea that God created us to be connected – connected to one another and connected to Him. So I find myself really enlivened by the idea of connecting people.

What helps her fulfill that calling: I’ve got to go lower and slower. And by lower, I mean on my knees. (I also need) fresh air and sunshine, moving my body, water – and I’m working hard to be a better sleeper.

(Executive coach) Dan Hall taught me, eat the toad first. Do the dreaded task first thing in the morning. Also, (I try not to take) my work or myself or my life so seriously that I’m not interruptible.

Why Jackson? I see God all over this city. I see the already of His kingdom here, and I see the not yet. … It is a city of grit and resilience, creativity and beauty. Is there pain? Brokenness? Healing that still has to happen? Yes, and we can’t shy away from that or ignore that. That has to be acknowledged. But I just – I love this place.

Kelcie Shack

Kelcie Shack

Her role: Site coordinator, Red Door Jackson, JLF’s youth mentoring program

Her background: Kelcie grew up in the Tupelo area and attended The University of Mississippi but fell in love with Jackson after her husband, Rocky, started working in ministry here. The Shacks have two daughters and are active members of Christ United Jackson, where Rocky serves as discipleship pastor.

Her calling: I think it’s wisdom and discernment. (Sometimes) you need to be there to listen – and if I don’t have (the wisdom someone needs), pointing them in the direction of someone who does.

What helps her fulfill that calling: Having a female boss (Emily), and also her being a mom. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders. But also the kids (at Red Door) … The kids are calling my phone … They’re braiding my child’s hair. I’m becoming a family member to them.

I love coming into the office and popping into everybody’s door and just talking. We have a mini Bible study that’s come out of nowhere. I love to call (Rocky) throughout the day, tell him something funny – just check in and talk.

Why Jackson? (For me and my husband) to be able to both do ministry in Jackson has been amazing. He was doing ministry first … and he always came home talking about the beauty and everything in Jackson. So when I was approached with this opportunity, I fell in love with it.

Crystal Smith

Crystal Smith

Her role: Data specialist, Red Door Jackson, JLF’s youth mentoring program

Her background: Born and raised in Jackson, Crystal attended Hinds Community College and Jackson State. She and her husband, Antonio, have four children and are members of Bertha Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Crystal is also a paralegal at Richard Schwartz & Associates.

Her calling: Service. There are things I do within my church, like leadership in the youth department; we do praise dance … I’m a deaconess in my church as well, so we do service in our community and make sure we have communication with our sick and shut-in members.

What helps her fulfill that calling: I just want to make sure I’m a positive influence on someone. Little things that you do, you don’t know where that can lead.

Why Jackson? Jackson is a jewel. It’s a treasure. We take care of our own.

Pro-Life Mississippi