Kicking It with Jennifer Jones, '06
Imagine getting up to go to work, knowing that what you’re working on that day has the ability to change thousands of young lives forever, or at least make their days a bit brighter. You work alongside positive, helpful coworkers, one of which happens to be NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
On most weekends, you cheer on your Gamecocks faithfully after enjoying a nice meal, and on special weekends, you travel somewhere, anywhere, across the country to taste fine wine, dance in the French Quarter or witness the Boston Marathon. This is the life of Jennifer Jones, ’06, who asks, “Why not?”
Growing Up GameDay
Jennifer could be a case study in how to have it all by making it happen for yourself. She is energetic about her work, devoted to her family and loyal to her University as an alumna of HRSM’s Sport Management and Entertainment program.
“I grew up in Columbia, but it was on the Northeast side, so downtown Columbia and the USC campus were foreign to me,” Jennifer explains. After her official visit sold her on Carolina, “I just packed up my things and drove 20 minutes down the road. It felt like a whole new world.”
Her parents, knowing that their daughter’s passion was college football, helped steer Jennifer toward her major.
“From a young age, every Saturday morning during football season, my sister and I would watch ESPN College GameDay from 10 to 12, and I knew that was something that I wanted to do,” Jennifer says.
It turned out to be an excellent fit. Her track provided her with the opportunity to be led by professors with experience in sport and entertainment management who brought their real-life experiences to class discussions.
“It didn’t feel like work; it felt like I just wanted to learn more,” Jennifer says. “Class was more of a conversation. It felt natural, fun and easy.”
Teaming Up with Jeff Gordon
Just one credit short of graduating, Jennifer’s professor, Dr. Thomas H. Regan, encouraged her to finish up her studies with a NASCAR marketing class offered by the school, one that regularly invites guest speakers from the industry and one that, fittingly, has invited Jennifer back as a guest speaker herself. Right before Jennifer was set to visit Australia for a Maymester course, a representative from the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation came to speak to the class. Jennifer sought an internship, the foundation sought an intern, and Jennifer was interviewed and hired upon her return from Down Under.
“I graduated on Saturday, moved to Charlotte on Sunday and started working on Monday,” Jennifer says with a laugh.
When her internship was about to end, Jennifer was on the receiving end of some excellent advice from Dr. Mary Frame, her mother.
“My mother told me, ‘Find a place for yourself in that office. See an area where they need help, and you find a way to provide that help.’ That’s what I really wanted—I wanted a job out of the internship, so I did anything that they asked and tried to help with other areas, not just in the foundation, but anything in the office that they needed help with.”
Sure enough, Jennifer proved to be valuable.
“What do you think about licensing?” Jennifer was asked while serving in a temporary office position following the end of her internship.
“Great—I love it!” she responded at the time, although she admits now that she knew little about it when asked. Nonetheless, Jennifer was excited about the possibilities.
Jennifer was hired as the licensing coordinator for HGJ Licensing, responsible for working with more than 75 companies and approving all licensed merchandise that is produced for Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and the driver of the #5 car, currently Kasey Kahne.
“Anything you can think of, there’s somebody who wants it with these drivers on it,” Jennifer explains. “The best part about it is the fans are so passionate about the drivers who they support, that they want anything and everything related to them, which is really cool, and it’s really a unique and loyal fan base that we get to serve.”
Wallpaper, fan blades and a Slip ‘n Slide are some products that have made the cut. Bathing suits, among other “things that we have to draw the line on,” according to Jennifer, did not secure licensing approval.
Now She’s Kicking It
Kickball games are currently a big part of Jennifer’s life, something she thinks about every day, and something about which she, Jeff and the rest of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation team have become passionate. They are all ready to Kick-It!
In May 2012, Jennifer was promoted to manager of Kick-It for the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, which means that, yes, she officially has one of the most fun, rewarding and creative jobs on earth.
The mission of Jeff’s foundation, which he founded in 1999, is to support children battling cancer by funding programs that improve patients’ quality of life, treatment programs that increase survivorship and pediatric medical research dedicated to finding a cure.
“We were looking for a way to grow the foundation and come up with more ways to engage our supporters and have them interact with us on fundraising and awareness,” Jennifer explains.
The timing could not have been better. A nonprofit organization called Kick-It, established in 2009 by a 10-year-old cancer patient, was seeking to expand its program of raising funds through “backyard” kickball games. It already had a major partnership with the Cleveland Indians on its side, but having Jeff’s support could catapult Kick-It to a national platform. The “perfect match” partnership with Kick-It allows both entities to extend awareness of pediatric cancer and raise money for the cause while engaging supporters in an authentic, enjoyable and personal way.
You Can Kick It, Too
The premise is so simple, yet intriguing. Start planning your own kickball game, as casual as in your own backyard, at a family reunion or at a corporate retreat. Ask for participants and fans to visit Kick-It.org/jeffgordon to securely donate anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars on behalf of your game in support of the cause. Play the game and have fun doing it, knowing that it is all to benefit the kids who need it the most.
Gamecocks Giving Back supports Kick-It! Find out more.
“The best part about Kick-It is that it’s at the level at which you want your organized game to be,” Jennifer says. “It’s a grassroots, in-your-backyard, at-the-local-recreation-park kind of thing. Everybody loves kickball. There’s no skill set that you have to have. I play kickball, and I am by no means an athlete.”
To honor National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Jeff will match dollar-for-dollar all money raised from games played in September on behalf of his foundation. Simply visit this link to set up your game. Be sure to check the box that mentions the foundation to ensure that your donations get doubled.
Jeff’s getting in the game, too!
Jeff Gordon will be playing in his own kickball game with pediatric cancer survivors and NASCAR media members on the front stretch of Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1 to kick off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, in which he has challenged his fans to host at least 30 games collectively.
“Originally, we were going to just have Jeff referee,” Jennifer recalls, “and he said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, I want to play! I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and just watch it. I want to play with everyone!’ Jeff loves Kick-It.”
She continues, “Jeff’s game will be played in the grass area of the speedway, which goes back to what Kick-It is—grassroots. It’s the area that we have available to us at the time, and we’re just putting bases out and putting two teams together on an open field, which is exactly what Kick-It represents.”
Serena Williams Is Kicking It
If you have been on Facebook and you are a Jeff Gordon fan, then you might have seen the “I’m Kicking It” signs that celebrities, athletes and pediatric cancer patients and survivors have posted. It’s Kick-It’s goal to collect one million photographs of the personalized signs online, showing a person holding a sign that says “I’m Kicking It” with a personal message to those suffering from the disease, in honor of someone or to share one’s reason for joining the fight to end pediatric cancer.
Serena Williams—while in England competing for what turned out to be her fifth Wimbledon title, no less!—recently uploaded hers to the site. LPGA golf star Annika Sorenstam has also taken part, as well as country music legend Vince Gill.
Each week, Jeff selects his favorite “I’m Kicking It” sign and announces it on social media. Visit this link to download your sign and view directions for uploading your photograph.
A Dream Job
The seed was planted for Jennifer to become a star long ago. All four of her parents have earned their doctorates, and she and her sister, Meredith, were regular visitors to their mother’s business engagements as young children.
“They’ve always been supportive and shown us that you can do anything that you want,” Jennifer says of her parents. “Our mom has done so much. She worked so hard when we were younger. She would take Meredith and me to her business meetings, and we would sit in the back—not coloring or anything—and watch her present to a group of people. Then she would take us to business dinners, and it really just taught us a lot from a young age that you can do anything you want. Just do it. Don’t ask people. Just get out there and do what it is that you want to do.”
Clearly, Jennifer took this to heart. The success of her parents—all of whom have taught in a university setting—has been instrumental in inspiring her own achievements.
Jennifer’s mother, Dr. Mary Frame, was the first dean of leadership at Columbia College and also served as a professor of psychology there. Her father, Dr. Roy Jones, is a retired associate professor of continuing education at Virginia Tech. Jennifer’s stepfather, Dr. Terry Frame, taught at Carolina as a professor of hospitality, retail, and sport management. Her stepmother, Dr. Judith Jones, is a retired director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech.
“This has been a dream come true,” Jennifer reflects. “I never would have thought that I would be doing what I’m doing now. I couldn’t have asked to be working with a better group of people and professionals, and I see myself working here ‘until.’ I have no plans for leaving anytime soon.”
Jennifer says she learns something new every day and goes to work each morning to a job that doesn’t feel like work.
“Until I don’t have that feeling anymore, then I want to stay where I am, and I’m confident that it will continue to be like that, working with a foundation that’s so passionate about its work and learning how it operates and all the amazing people we serve,” Jennifer says.
“It gives back in so many more ways than I can even describe,” she continues. “Being able to meet children and young adults who want to give back—and it’s not their parents telling them that they should give back, it’s that they themselves want to give back—makes me want to continue doing what I’m doing and just keep trying to raise as much money for research and keep these kickball games going so I can in some way help these kids.”
Jennifer certainly seems to live with a “Why not?” philosophy. In just this past year, she has traveled to Wine Country, Mardi Gras and New England. It’s a passion of hers—and Jennifer goes after what she seeks.
It’s not uncommon for her father to propose a whirlwind weekend trip in which Jennifer drives to Virginia to meet him on a Friday, to then go up to DC together, take a train to New York, run a race together in Central Park on Sunday morning and get back to work in Charlotte by Monday morning. In fact, these kinds of adventures are a regular part of Jennifer’s life.
“I love to travel and explore anything and everything, getting out there and doing whatever I can,” she says. “I like to stay busy and enjoy life. Why not?”