Photo by Jamie Alexander
For nearly three decades, Renee Beasley Jones has been writing, reporting and serving her community in some capacity. Whether it was serving as the marketing director for the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, the public relations manager for Kenergy, or as the Arts and Entertainment reporter for the Messenger-Inquirer, Beasley Jones has found a way to make a positive impact in her community. In December 2020, the Henderson, Kentucky native decided to hang up her reporter hat and retire. However, she allowed very little time to go by before setting out on her next altruistic adventure.
“I’ve been fortunate that my first tour at the Messenger-Inquirer was as the arts and entertainment reporter, and I reported on non-profits,” Beasley Jones said. “I think that’s where I got my first glimpse of, ‘Wow! Look what they’re doing.’ Non-profits are really what make the world go round, and I think we often lose sight of that in our communities.”
On August 30, 2020, Beasley Jones wrote a story for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer regarding two AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) positions available at St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter and River Valley Behavioral Health, respectively. Then, in anticipation of her retirement in November, she found herself applying for the St. Benedict’s AmeriCorps position. Beasley Jones recalls joking with St. Benedict’s Executive Director Harry Pedigo for approximately two years that she was going to retire and come work for him.
“Every time I would interview Harry, I was so impressed,” Beasley Jones said. “This AmeriCorps position is like my dream come true. I’ve always been so close to St. Benedict’s and Harry, to share in that experience was really one of my goals when I retired. AmeriCorps made it possible for me to do it in a meaningful way.”
While AmeriCorps seemed to be the perfect opportunity for Beasley Jones to reduce the number of hours she was working and still be involved in helping the community, at age 66, she was initially afraid she wouldn’t meet the requirements.
“I would interview them (AmeriCorps workers),” she said. “I would just always assume AmeriCorps and VISTA positions were for people just starting their careers, trying new things, getting their educations…because all the AmeriCorps people I knew were young people in their 20s and their 30s.”
According to the AmeriCorps website, “AmeriCorps is an opportunity for individuals of all ages and backgrounds to give their time and talent to strengthen communities.”
When Beasley Jones discovered that there was no upper age limit, she knew her prior experience would be the perfect fit for the shelter.
“The St. Benedict’s job was made for me,” she said. “It had all the components I did for many years—fundraising, grant writing geared more towards outreach—those are things I’ve done my entire life.”
Pedigo agrees that the diverse skill set and amount of experience Beasley Jones brings to the position are invaluable.
“I’ve been working with Renee for a long time; she’s very special that’s for sure,” Pedigo said. “She brings a lot of wisdom and experience with her, but also life experience, too. She’s also done a lot of corporate work. That determination that she’s had to succeed and be passionate about what she does—it shows without a doubt.”
AmeriCorps volunteers are funded by federal money through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). These volunteers receive a modest yearly stipend, along with other benefits such as healthcare, childcare, and an educational award to help with college expenses. Each organization that hosts an AmeriCorps volunteer is required to contribute a matching cash donation of $5,250. According to Pedigo, Beasley Jones’ position was made possible through an Audubon Area joint grant written to include five local non-profit organizations.
“Typically, with most AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteers, they work so well they work themselves into a position, because you can’t afford to lose their value,” Pedigo said. “She’s going to be one we don’t want to lose—she’s already that valuable.”
In the two short months Beasley Jones has been with the shelter, Pedigo said she has created new and innovative campaigns that have helped to not only destigmatize homelessness, but have also generated close to 15 new monthly contributors to the shelter.
“To me that’s huge,” Pedigo said.
Beasley Jones encourages others that are nearing retirement, but are still looking to serve the community, to consider a position with AmeriCorps.
“AmeriCorps isn’t just for people who are 21 years old and going to college—it’s for people who are at the end of their working years and thinking about retirement—it’s a way to give back,” Beasley Jones said. “Honestly, when you reach the end of your career, you have so much talent, and job skills that you didn’t have when you were 30, 40, or even 50. You don’t get those skills overnight, they come with years of experience.