SPECIAL SECTION: AREA WOMEN LEADERS
by Abby Brill
“If you know absolutely that what you’re doing is right, then everything will fall into place.”
It is always so refreshing to encounter someone who isn't afraid to think big, and so exciting when that person is positioned and given the tools to make transformative change in people’s lives.
As Executive Director for the Coalition for Compassion and Justice (CCJ), Jessi Hans has earned the respect and support of the Prescott-area community, proving that “If you know absolutely that what you’re doing is right, then everything will fall into place.”
Jessi found her vocation unintentionally. Studying art in college, she was accepted as an apprentice to a ceramics artist, even as she knew in her gut that it wasn't where she belonged. She then began what would be over a decade of working in residential facilities with adjudicated youth.
It was tough work, but she grew some serious soul muscles and learned how to give disadvantaged individuals the tools to lift themselves out of a bad place. After working for a time at Mingus Mountain Academy, she went to work at CCJ under the leadership of Paul Mitchell.
Jessi thinks big, and doesn’t worry about the what-ifs. Paul welcomed and supported her initiatives. “We know things at a young age; what we’re good at, what we’re capable of. Sometimes we stray from that, and then someone you meet can bring you back to that. Paul did that for me.”
After Paul moved on, Jessi took over as director of CCJ and began implementing some big changes, including working with other groups to consolidate and streamline services.
Currently the CCJ focuses on housing, covering from emergency shelter to independent living, advocacy to help to overcome challenges including mental health and social-services referrals, work training both in soft and practical employment skills, home repair for health and safety, and the CCJ Thrift Store to assist those in need and generate income to support other programs.
Jessi’s vision for CCJ is not just to provide the best care the group can muster. Part of her big-picture thinking is that CCJ can challenge the status quo for nonprofits. The organization doesn’t just want its clients to have a safe, clean place to sleep and a hot meal, which basically sustains homelessness. CCJ provides clients with a gradual, transitional model for moving toward independent living.
Jessi is also committed to paying her staff a living wage, and to a physical space that isn’t a church basement, because the work they do is of incalculable worth and should reflect that. Prescott is noticing this vision and stepping up to help eliminate homelessness in our area.
Jessi finds inspiration in the work of author Glennon Doyle, who stresses that for many women, getting to the table and having a voice is the goal, but, importantly, once you’ve reached that table, your real job is to hold the door open so that other women, people of color and other minorities can follow.