Volunteer "Rolls It Forward" for CCC Veterans

Friday, November 08, 2019

Michaelle, a peer support specialist with Central City Concern’s (CCC) Veterans Grant & Per Diem Program, was home one evening when she noted a post on the St Johns neighborhood’s NextDoor.com page.

“I’m looking for an organization that can take donations,” the post read.

Looking to give back, St. Johns resident Jenni Jo planned to run a donation-based introductory body rolling class and was looking for local nonprofits that could use the donations. Michaelle’s thoughts went immediately to the veterans she works with, many of whom come to the program with nothing, sometimes straight off the street. She quickly responded to the post.

The two connected and established a plan. Michaelle would survey the veterans in her program for a list of items they needed — things like coffee pots, sheets and day planners — and Jenni Jo would host a free introductory body rolling class for donations of new or gently used items and cash. The connection they made there would create effects that rippled out in both the CCC’s and Jenni Jo’s communities.

Also known as “The Tension Tamer” and “massage therapist to the rock stars,” Jenni Jo is a successful businesswoman who has been recognized for her unique approach to taming tension and pain management through body work. Her choice to pursue a career in tension taming was inspired by a childhood spent seeing her grandmother live with rheumatoid arthritis. Knowing people suffered from chronic pain, feeling trapped in their own bodies, she was driven to pursue alleviating pain. One of her favorite methods? Body rolling.

“Body rolling is like your own massage therapist and physical meditation in a ball. It stimulates bone health, lengthens muscles and has many of the effects of a deep tissue massage, including stress relief and deep-seated therapeutic effects when practiced correctly.”

"Jenni Jo has a deep intuition about who is going to recoil. Even people who are normally very resistant to touch let Jenni Jo come and help adjust them. Her personality is so welcoming and gives confidence to everyone.”

While Jenni Jo describes herself as nomadic by nature and an avid traveler (including going on international tours with rock stars), she is also incredibly grounded in her local community. Last year, she decided to do something to impact her neighborhood of St. Johns. The original idea was simple: Jenni Jo would host a free class for people interested in learning more about body rolling. The class would be donation-based to benefit a local nonprofit.

As Jenni Jo and Michaelle worked together, it became clear that Jenni Jo had a deeper connection with the veteran program at CCC than just living in the area. Her family history, including chronic pain and PTSD from military service, gave her insight into the experience of our veteran clients. Connecting over their shared compassion, Michaelle invited Jenni Jo to attend one of the monthly resident meetings and lead a body rolling session.

Jenni Jo arrived, various balls in tow, to greet a group of hesitant and unsure veterans. But when Michaelle and Jenni Jo started demonstrating the movements, the group quickly got into it. Jenni Jo led the group through some simple exercises and meditation aimed to reduce tension and pain, as well as to teach tools that allow practitioners to create quite moments of mental and physical peace.

Jenni Jo seemed to have a natural instinct for how to interact in a trauma-informed way. According to Michaelle, “Jenni Jo has a deep intuition about who is going to recoil. Even people who are normally very resistant to touch let Jenni Jo come and help adjust them. Her personality is so welcoming and gives confidence to everyone.”

These sessions were well received and many of the vets were able to use balls that Jenni Jo donated to practice on their own. But her impact on the program was just beginning.

As she shared stories of her volunteer work, her whole family became involved. Her father and her children helped run some of the sessions. Jenni Jo’s stepfather, a Vietnam vet, donated many high-quality items of clothing...

As she shared stories of her volunteer work, her whole family became involved. Her father and her children helped run some of the sessions. Jenni Jo’s stepfather, a Vietnam vet, donated many high-quality items of clothing; Michaelle eventually set up a “shop” for the veteran clients. According to Jenni Jo, this meant a lot to her stepfather:

“Because of his PTSD, he doesn’t often have the ability to engage personally in volunteer work with fellow veterans. So it was really special for him to be able to give back and see his donation go to such a good cause.”

When Jenni’s mother heard about her work with CCC, she nominated the organization for a grant from Leupold and Stevens, where she serves on the charitable giving committee. To the surprise and joy of Michaelle and CCC, L&S donated over $10,000 to the veterans program. This donation gave Michaelle and other staff the ability to provide special holiday gifts to the veterans. Even her children got involved with spreading the good work. Jenni Jo and her kids made goody bags with hand warmers, granola bars and information about how veterans could access services. She handed these out to her clients to give to homeless veterans they might see. Her hope was to inspire connection and maybe help veterans experiencing homelessness find their way to services.

Her decision to get her kids involved was a way to show them the importance of volunteering. “I am a single mom and it is incredibly important to me to teach my children to know what is going on in the world, teach them compassion and not to take things for granted. I want my kids to have really big hearts and to know they can make a difference and think outside of themselves.”

We are all inspired by Jenni Jo’s work at CCC and in our community. We look forward to other ways her kindness and compassion “roll forward!”