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Celebrating the Woman Next Door: Jackie Nitti

In partnership with AdventHealth for Women, we’re recognizing some of the women in our community who are selflessly giving to others while raising families, supporting their loved ones and building their careers. Whether they know it or not, their stories inspire other women in their shoes.

As the development manager at HOPE Helps, Inc., an Oviedo-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing homelessness in Central Florida, Jackie Nitti focuses on fundraising and donor relations. Her role helps to sustain the organization’s programs and ensure its clients receive the support they need during times of financial insecurity. She enjoys getting to know the donors, business partners and community members who support the HOPE Helps mission.

What is your WHY?

I believe it’s important to do what we can to help others because that’s how our communities thrive. There will always be people who need support, whether they are underprivileged, special needs, elderly, sick, abused or marginalized, and there are so many wonderful non-profits and people in our community who are willing to step up and help where needed. I find it inspiring to work for HOPE Helps where every day I see the kindness in people’s hearts when they are willing to lend a helping hand to someone who is struggling.

On your toughest of days, what motivates you to put one foot in front of the other?

Our clients. At HOPE, we have so many people coming to us for food and financial assistance so they can stay in their homes during a financial crisis, many of whom have never needed to ask for help before. I want to be sure I’m doing my part so we can provide them with what they need to feel safe. We’re fortunate to live in such a generous community, and I have the privilege of working with donors, community members, business partners and local churches to let them know how their support is impacting our neighbors in need. So many families are going through some really trying times right now, and I am truly motivated by the opportunity to work with our community members every day to engage them for support of these families.

Have you drawn inspiration from other women? Tell us about someone who has inspired you.

It’s difficult to choose just one woman who inspires me – there are so many women out there doing amazing things. The first that comes to mind though, would be my mother. I was raised by a single mother, who worked hard to complete her degree when I was young and then advance through her career over the years to provide us with a comfortable life. She raised me to appreciate the value of hard work, and I’m inspired by how she overcame obstacles to support us and save for the future. A close second inspirational woman would be my daughter. She is so smart and talented and strong and not afraid to speak her mind or voice her opinions. I always worry that if I’m too direct I may come off as rude or unkind, but she has a way of speaking her mind that seems so matter-of-fact and reasonable that I always find her viewpoint refreshing and welcome. She’s also a great debater, and while I don’t share that skill and find it occasionally frustrating as a mother, I know it will serve her well throughout life and I’m so proud of her for that.

What is the one word that perfectly explains who you are?

Optimistic. There’s a lot of contention in the world right now and so many people are having a tough go of it, but I truly believe that most people are just trying their best and want our families and neighbors to be secure and successful. I am optimistic that if we all continue to work together, our community will be a place where everyone feels welcome and safe, has opportunities to succeed and provide for their families, and live a long and healthy life.

Would you change anything about how you have handled challenges or successes thus far in your life?

In March of 2020, HOPE Helps held our annual 5k, which was one of the last community events before everything closed down. It was stressful to be sure because we had a sense of what was coming. As lockdown began and we all shifted to working from home, one thing never changed, and that was our commitment to making sure our clients would still receive support. I think “pivot” quickly became the word of the year. Our leadership team and staff faced each obstacle with the attitude of, “How do we help our clients get through this?” In the very beginning, we didn’t know if people would still be able to donate, how big the need would be for our clients, or how many new clients may be reaching out in need of assistance. We had to close our thrift store, The HOPE Chest, for a few months, so we weren’t going to receive proceeds from those sales. Not knowing how long the lockdown would last, we, like so many other companies, had a big question mark hanging over our future finances. We were quickly amazed and honored by the support of our community and their faith in us to be good stewards of their generosity. Those who could give did so, both financially and in food donations, and we were able to continuously provide for our existing and new clients, which I consider a great success of 2020. Through it all, our leadership team focused on communication and adaptation, and we learned we are fully capable of handling whatever challenges come our way.

2020 was a year full of many challenges, and some successes, but I don’t think I would change anything about how we, at HOPE, handled the obstacles that came our way. Every challenge gave us an opportunity to learn and adapt.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my family and my home. My husband is a physical therapist at AdventHealth and my children are young adults who are doing a great job navigating life. They’re hard workers and care about their communities and those in need.

We live in a 100-year-old home in Sanford, and we truly love our eclectic and diverse community. While the house will probably always be in some stage of fixer upper-ness, we love the quirkiness and creative problem solving it brings and I’ve always got a project to work on. We’ve completed some great renovations since we moved in two years ago, and we enjoy honoring the history of the home with our updates.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced and what did you learn from it?

I was fortunate to be able to stay home with my children when they were young, but getting back into the workforce as they entered middle school was extremely challenging. It took several years until I reached a position where I felt I was contributing to my family (financially) and my community. Twenty years ago, when my children were babies, there weren’t as many learning opportunities available online as there are today. I would encourage all young mothers, and all women in general, to always look for opportunities to learn and grow. It’s easy to believe you can’t do something and it’s always hard to take that first step, but we are all capable of achieving our goals. Take classes online, find a mentor, ask for help, seek out reliable resources and learn about what’s happening in the world, stay informed and be willing to listen to and consider the perspective of others. I know how busy the days can be with little ones, but I would strongly encourage all women to take advantage of any and all educational opportunities, and try to learn something new every day.

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Written by Lyndsay Fogarty

Lyndsay Fogarty has had many roles at Central Florida Lifestyle, working her way from intern to contributing writer to managing editor. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication where she earned her degree in journalism. Along the way, she has learned that teamwork and dedication to your craft will get you far, and a positive outlook on the present will get you even farther.

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