Alumna is an Executive Director with a Heart for Non-Profits
Jessica Spanglehour Macy, ’95 ΚΑΘ, laughs when she says she planned to attend law school, run for political office and change the world after graduating from Westminster College. Instead, the Executive Director of the Services for Independent Living in Columbia, MO, says she found her true calling in non-profit work.
“I found a passion for working directly with people in need,” Macy says of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program she participated in immediately after earning her political science degree from the College. Now known as AmeriCorps, the organization put Macy to work for two years in low-income middle schools and high schools in Ardmore, OK, not far from her hometown of Oklahoma City.
“In one short year, I discovered the way to change the world is one person at a time, starting with myself,” she explains.
Today Macy is making headlines for changing the world of the seniors and people with disabilities she has worked with throughout her 24-year career. Most recently, COMO magazine interviewed Macy here for her impact as a board member with the Family Health Center. And in June, the Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge singled Macy out for her new position as executive director with Services for Independent Living.
Macy recently sat down with Westminster Today to discuss the high points of her nonprofit career, the challenges she has overcome as a female executive, a few of her Westminster memories and her favorite binge-worthy television network.
What do you like most about your job? The least?
What I like most is working with a team of highly dedicated people who care about the independent living philosophy and providing choices to people with disabilities. Helping people is in my blood. It might be something small, like helping an intern use our phone system. Or it may be helping a person receive home repairs to make their home safe, or ensuring over 10,000 rides are given to people with disabilities and seniors — so they can visit the doctor, go grocery shopping or be actively involved in the community.
I really hate it when we cannot meet a need. Some days there are just not enough resources. Or when there are systematic problems, like health insurance, that one nonprofit can’t solve. It’s a long haul to make system changes! Also, I would be lying if didn’t say fundraising. It is not my favorite part, but sharing our story and giving people the ability to invest in meaningful work offsets that anxiety.
As a woman, do you feel you’ve run into any specific challenges in your career?
If you haven’t run into challenges, you probably aren’t in the right job. But if we are specially talking about being a woman, wage disparity exists, even in the nonprofit world. About 75 percent of the sector’s employees are women, but at the highest level or in larger organizations, women are more sparse, including on their boards of directors. One of my goals is to create progressive family policies to retain female employees and also to be intentional about encouraging their growth and development.
When you are working with an underrepresented group like seniors and people with disabilities, the biggest challenge can be educating the community on the barriers they face. We spend a lot of time talking about inclusion and diversity, but until that conversation includes people with disabilities, we still have a lot more to talk about.
Do you feel Westminster prepared you for your current profession?
Being in the Greek community and seeing the very high value placed on service definitely set me on a lifetime path of service. I spent at least one year as the community service chair for Kappa Alpha Theta, and that spurred by love of philanthropy. Westminster is also all about connection. This has been a key to life success for me — creating lasting connections to people and purpose. I run into Westminster grads all the time. When I was a consultant, I was leading a focus group for the City of Columbia and ran into a WC grad who was passionate about a specific municipal issue. WC grads are involved in their community beginning in collage and continue to do so as they move out to the “real world.”
One of the best lessons I learned was working the phonathon and calling alums for donations. Whew! That was the start of 25 years of fundraising. But it taught me that everyone has opinions, and sometimes you just have to listen.
Do you have a favorite Westminster memory or favorite professor?
Dr. John Langton was my advisor, and I will never forget Marxism and Marxist Traditions. I still have PTSD! I distinctly remember never being late for Dr. Russ Jones’ history class, because he would lock the door and sometimes talk about his dog. My favorite class was with Dr. Lael, the Vietnam Experience. It taught me varied research methods and deeper critical thinking. Of course, there was a group project. What can prepare you more for life than a college group project?
My husband, Chris, was an SAE and graduated with me in 1991. We lost touch, reconnected in 2005 and got married in 2008.
A book or two that you would recommend to others?
Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow and You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love really trashy shows on Bravo. They are my guilty pleasure!