A Coffee Chat with Anita Jenkins by Renee’ Deckrow
Encouraging financial literacy and generosity in communities is a crucial step toward creating a more equitable and prosperous society. When individuals understand how to manage their finances, share with and give back to others, it can have a significant impact on both them and the community as a whole. By fostering a culture of financial responsibility and generosity, we can work towards a brighter future for all.
With 47 years as a dedicated community member in Midland, Anita Jenkins epitomizes her belief through personal experience. As an Attorney specializing in Economics & Tax Law, she has invested her time and energy in numerous financial well-being initiatives. As a committed member of the Board of Directors at Midland Area Community Foundation, Anita has been a steadfast advocate and collaborator. These spearheading initiatives have transformed Midland into a flourishing community for all.
Anita shares, “A Community is a gathering of individuals who share a common location, interests, values, and goals. They unite to engage, share resources, care for one another, and prioritize collective well-being. Like Abraham Lincoln’s sentiment, we yearn for a place that takes pride in us as much as we take pride in it. Active interaction within the community becomes indispensable. It is necessary to acquaint ourselves, collaborate, and build coalitions. Just living in a community isn’t enough. Some believe that being sought after for a board position is solely due to their name recognition. However, that is not the essence. It is not about what the community can do for an individual, but rather what skills, capabilities, insights, and perspectives an individual can contribute to their community and its growth.”
As we settle in for a virtual coffee chat, we engage in a delightful conversation about our shared appreciation for Midland. We discuss the exciting new developments taking place and even gush over Max Loves Midland. In addition, we exchange book recommendations on finances that even my teenage daughters might enjoy. Our connection deepens as we revel in a meaningful discussion on the Scripture passage in Ephesians, which reminds us that God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Impressed by Anita’s profound insights, I eagerly anticipate soaking up more of her wisdom.
I asked Anita to share how she got involved with the Midland Area Community Foundation, and she shared, “As someone new to Midland in 1977 and working for the Dow Chemical Company, I was encouraged to join various committees and boards. When I was on the United Way Board, I met a wonderful lady name Esther Gerstaker. Are you familiar with that name?”
We laugh, and I assure her that I understand how amazing Esther Gerstacker was. Anita continued, “She was also hugely hilarious, and not many people may know that about her… she was one of my biggest inspirations in terms of giving and generosity. She was just delightful. She had this little saying that charity required every penny, so it was from penny one. Many people thought that you had to give $100, $1,000, or whatever. The thing was, we needed every penny. So we had this thing when I first got started. Esther would say, So you’re going to give $1,000, and I’m going to give a million, and one day, you’re going to give $10,000, and I’m still going to do a million, and then one day you’re going to give a million, and I won’t be here.”
After deep reflection, I sincerely admire Anita’s unwavering commitment to the Foundation and personal generosity. In her own words, she expressed, “We actively encourage others to become involved with the Community Foundation, whether through volunteering, financial contributions, or utilizing its resources. We commend the Community Foundation for its role in fostering unity, facilitating meaningful conversations, promoting collaboration, and encouraging cooperation. We provide financial support to the Community Foundation to further its outreach efforts and support its mission.”
“I initially began my academic journey in the field of political science but soon discovered a fervor for a cognate course within that discipline. Although I was unfamiliar with the vocabulary, my enthusiasm for the subject grew, ultimately leading me to switch my major to economics. I found the study of money and business to be captivating, especially considering it was not a topic covered in my high school curriculum. While we had an international foreign relations course, it did not mention money or banking. College proved to be an intriguing experience, but it was through observing individuals like Esther Gerstacker and Leroy Hampton, who exuded knowledge and passion around finances, that it became evident that improving my financial literacy was crucial.
During my tenure as a tax attorney at the Dow Chemical Company, I had the opportunity to work closely with executives, specializing in matters concerning executive compensation and employee benefits from a tax law perspective. These intricacies often had a significant impact on their lives, further solidifying my interest in finance. These experiences opened my eyes to the immense potential of foundations, both in terms of the positive impact they can make and the complex considerations involved from a legal and tax standpoint.’
Overall, this journey has shaped my perspective and instilled within me a deeper understanding of the value of financial literacy and the possibilities that arise when combining knowledge of law, taxes, and finance.”
All of your experiences and skill sets merge so beautifully with the idealistic aspiration of bettering the world with a thorough grasp of economics. These combined strengths have facilitated your involvement in numerous long-term sustainable initiatives, enabling positive change and lasting impact. Now, I am the inspired one.
What excites you about the future? I ask curiously.
“I’m passionate about youth programs like Leadership Midland for Youth and Midland Area Youth Action Council. My daughter had the incredible opportunity to be part of one, and it truly proved to be a transformative experience.
For me personally, let me share a pivotal moment that involved me in the foundation. While on the grants committee, I assumed a committee role that provided deep insights into its workings. As I delved deeper, I not only became acquainted with its mission but also realized its immense value. Before that, I’ll admit, I held a rather indifferent attitude. It reinforced my belief in the importance of organizations like these, as they provide avenues to engage with and make a difference in the community, even without an immediate board position.
In short, supporting foundations and similar organizations is crucial, enabling individuals to connect and contribute meaningfully.
I appreciate how the Youth Action Council actively involves young people in this process. Giving is often associated with wealth and philanthropy, conjuring images of affluent, older philanthropists. Yet, the true significance lies in recognizing that every contribution holds immense value, no matter how modest. It’s vital to understand that giving is not confined to the financially privileged or retirees – it’s an essential act for everyone to embrace.
Every little bit matters. Truly, it does. So, if you can spare $10, that’s $10 that could make a difference. Some believe that only large sums count, but that’s not entirely true. Let me introduce you to the concept of a giving pyramid.
Imagine you need to raise a million dollars. To achieve this, you need a diverse group of donors. At the base of the pyramid, many individuals can contribute smaller amounts, let’s say just $5 or $10. As you move up the pyramid, the number of donors decreases, but their contributions increase. There may be one person who can donate $250,000 or more. It’s a collective effort where every donation matters.
Back in the day, when I served on the board, we wanted to emphasize that there was a better answer than relying solely on family foundations or big organizations. Take, for example, the Senior Services Building project. While foundations generously donated around $5 million, we deliberately left $1 million for the community to contribute. Shared giving opportunities allowed the community to feel a sense of ownership in the project. Remember, it’s not about the donation size, but the spirit of giving.”
I’ve always believed that active participation and contribution to creating or realizing things cultivate a deeper appreciation. Don’t you agree? I wonder.
“Yes, the family Foundations didn’t do these things alone; they invited the communities in so that we can say, we did this together.”
Anita, that was truly beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to share with us today. Before we part ways, do you have any final words of encouragement you’d like to leave us with?
“Our inspiration centers in our families who believed and lived the biblical teachings of Luke 12:48 that we are held responsible for what we have been blessed with, treasures, time, and talents, and it is expected that we are conduits and required to benefit others lifting as we climb.”
I love that…. May we join you in this motto to “lift others as we climb.”
Together, forward, bold, we go….