A Louisiana nonprofit executive director helps turn dreams into realities.
Sometimes Kentrell Jones uses a little tough love with her clients at the East Tammany Habitat for Humanity in Slidell, Louisiana. The Thrivent client does it, in part, because the program is charged with giving a hand up, not a handout. But Jones also does it because she’s been there, and she knows people can achieve home ownership and other life goals if they push themselves.
“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘you just have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps,’” Jones says, “but if you don’t have boots, you can’t do it. I want to help them get the boots so they can then pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”
Jones grew up in a New Orleans housing project, the youngest of five kids of a single mother. Her dad died of a heart attack when she was four. She left home at 18 to join the Army, and she met her husband at her first duty station in South Korea. Jones served for four years, then followed her husband as a military spouse and raised their two children, now ages 18 and 15. He was deployed three times before the couple shifted gears and settled in Slidell. Jones wanted to find a job, but she wasn’t sure what.
“A nonprofit organization called The Mission Continues challenges veterans to serve in local underserved communities,” Jones says. “I was always passionate about home ownership, and the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity affiliate was gracious to let me volunteer for six months.”
That was 10 years ago. While Jones first started as a volunteer, she’s now the executive director.
“It’s not that I see myself in our clients, but I do know the thought process of wanting something that is yours,” she says. “I can remember when my mom was thinking about purchasing a home. That vision and dream never came true for us, but that idea of home ownership always stuck with me.
“It seems so real and within grip and then doesn’t happen. As a child, I never knew why. As an adult, I’ve learned people live and function based on the environment around them. If we don’t see something different, we can’t even envision something better.”
How did you first learn about Thrivent?
A Thrivent financial professional would do workshops during our Habitat homeowners’ meetings to help them learn and stay on track with finances. From sitting in on those sessions and hearing about Thrivent’s connection in the community, when my husband and I were thinking about life insurance, we came to Thrivent.
What’s your first memory of money?
My first memory is what it felt like having my own money when I got my first job. I was 16 and got a job flagging cars. I made $7.25 an hour and was so excited. The parking lot I flagged at was adjacent to some high-profile stores, and I watched people bring back bags from these stores. I got my first check and spent it all on a skirt and top at one of those stores. I look back now and think how foolish. But at the time, for me, it was a sign that I made it. Sometimes you need to grab on to the things that give you a little joy.
What are your guiding principles around money decisions?
At the top of my list is the question: Is it a necessity? Since I’m big on enjoying life, my little rule of thumb is: Pay your bills, pay yourself and enjoy the rest.
What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever received?
Stop trying to impress people with money you don’t have. Do what works for you in your life.
What’s your favorite volunteer activity?
I love to build planter boxes so that families in underserved communities can plant their own vegetables and fruit.
How do you demonstrate gratitude?
To show gratitude, I’m going to call you, take you out to lunch or dinner, give you a hug. During the pandemic, I launched Donate Tammany, an effort to unite area nonprofits. We support one another’s events and help where we can, as we are able. And that’s how I show gratitude—by asking what can I do for you? How can I return the favor?
Describe a time when you were on the receiving end of a gift.
It was in 2020, when some of the pandemic restrictions lifted and we could start building again. We left our locked trailer on the site where we were working. We had built 80 homes in that community, and people always have been supportive. Bad weather hit and when we returned, the trailer, with all our tools, was gone. We were wiped clean. Thrivent stepped in to help, and donations came pouring in. We were so blessed.
What does it mean to thrive with purpose?
To me, it means to keep moving forward in your God-given purpose. I think God created us with a purpose to be a help to someone else. No matter the circumstance, keep pushing forward.