Congratulating Brenda Jones on 40 Years of Service
Community Place of Greater Rochester (CPGR) is honoring Brenda Jones this month for her 40 years of teaching, mentoring, and caring for children in Rochester settlement houses. Brenda will be recognized at CPGRâ€™s annual fundraiser on April 25. It is fitting that the theme of this yearâ€™s fundraiserâ€”â€œThe Art of Givingâ€â€”coincides with this landmark year for Brenda: she exemplifies a lifetime of dedication in helping others to flourish and achieve. The â€œartâ€ of giving can mean many things, but for Brenda it means sharing something of herself with others, especially her creative and artistic gifts. Simply put, giving to others is â€œsharing me,â€ she states.
The art of giving for Miss Brenda means sharing something of herself.
Brendaâ€™s career began 40 years ago at Genesee Settlement House as a volunteer receptionist. She was then hired full time in the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program. Brenda recalls that her first supervisor gave her lots of encouragement and feedback and helped shape her professional skills. â€œI used to be such a busybody,â€ she laughs, until she received some honest advice. From this early training, she learned two important things: the art of listening and being patient. â€œKnowing when to just listen . . . sometimes that is what children need, just to be heardâ€ she says.
Brenda started working at Community Place when Genesee Settlement House merged with the creation of CPGR in 2001. (It was around this time that Brenda met Sue Davin, current President of CPGR, who remembers Brenda as her in-service trainer for summer camp.) Currently, Brenda is a youth worker in the Sky Is the Limit after-school program for children with disabilities.
At the outset, Brenda wasnâ€™t always sure that she was destined to work with children; in fact, she admits that she may have been headed in the wrong direction until a member of her church took her under her wing. This guardian angel told Brenda, â€œGod will bless you because you work with children . . . . You will be special to someone else.â€
And over the years, Brenda has been special to many, many others. It is difficult to put into a few sentences or paragraphs what 40 years has meant to Brenda, her coworkers, the community, and the hundreds of children she has nurtured over the years. Words seem inadequate to recount the weeks, months, and years that Brenda has inspired and motivated eager learners; listened to a child who needed to be heard; comforted those who were hurting; and guided, praised, and encouraged so many who benefitted from her efforts.
Brenda has a wellspring of patience, an inner strength, and the blessing of wisdom that she draws on everyday in giving to the children she works with. In turn, her reward has been the â€œtrue joyâ€ of watching these children grow up and do well. She loves meeting her former students as young adults who remember her as their preschool teacher. Recently, she met a young woman at a restaurant who had her two children with her; they couldnâ€™t believe Brenda used to be their motherâ€™s teacher. â€œWorking with kids keeps me young.â€ It the â€œjoy of seeing kids happy,â€ she affirms.
Miss Brenda with the UPK children. â€œWorking with kids keeps me young,â€ she says.
Some of her favorite memories over the years are the trips to Buffalo Bills games and all the singing on the bus, the Christmas programs with Santa, and the summer camp programs where the children (some 300 strong) get to enjoy being out in nature, hiking in the various parks in the area, andâ€”her favoriteâ€”doing arts and crafts.
One of her funniest recollections is being â€œa grandmother look-alike.â€ Each year a new child in her group will say to her: â€œYou remind me of my grandmother,â€ and will continue to call Brenda â€œgrandmother.â€ â€œIt never fails,â€ she laughs, â€œevery year I remind a child of his or her grandmother!â€ But even after 40 years, Brenda displays a youthful outlook. She says it best with her customary humor: â€œNothing is old on me except my clothes.â€
She loves the unpredictable things that inevitably happen when one works with children. Brenda recalls stopping to eat on a road trip at a Ci Ci Pizzaâ€”an all you can eat pizza buffet. There was â€œso much pizzaâ€â€”a roomful of pizza! Of course, all the eyes were much bigger than the stomachs, but the kids tried their best to match stomachs with eyes. Brenda says that the manager was â€œvery kindâ€ about their efforts to consume all the pizza in the restaurant.
In addition to being part of the â€œvillageâ€ that has helped to raise hundreds of settlement house children, she has raised three children of her own, now successful young adults; her youngest son, she notes, took after her and became a teacher. All of her children now live in the Atlanta, GA, area, but Brenda needs to be in Rochester because she is now the primary caregiver to her elderly parents.
Being a busy mother and teacher didnâ€™t prevent Brenda from finding time for community service over the years. She volunteered for the Girls Scouts and her church, and served as superintendent of her Sunday school.
Would Brenda have done things differently if she could? â€œNo,â€ she says with quiet conviction, â€œI wouldnâ€™t change it if I had to do it all over again.â€ However, if she could have something different, it would not be for herself. She wishes that the Sky Is the Limit program could have its own building and facilities. The kids wouldnâ€™t have to share the gym and other activities. They could have a â€œplace of their own.â€
It has been said that our lives are made by what we give to others. Brenda has made a commendable life by what she has given to so many children, and she has shown us what the â€œart of givingâ€ means, that it is a way of living oneâ€™s life every day in service to others. For this, Community Place wishes to congratulate Brenda for her 40 years of service and thank her for being an exemplar of the art of giving.