Chicago-based event planner Jessie Williams could have succumbed to the school of hard knocks, but instead she pays it forward in all elements of her business and daily life with her daughter.
“I want people to realize that just because you grew up in a certain neighborhood or with a certain financial status doesn’t mean you can’t make something of yourself,” she says.
“I grew up with not a lot,” says Jessie, sharing that she traversed teen pregnancy and adoption at 17 years old. She credits her mother for pushing her to go to school and get a job. Eventually, she married a supportive partner and they started a family of their own.
“I’m super blessed right now,” she says. “I could have potentially not been; I could have been a complete statistic.”
Jessie’s resilience paved the way for her to create a business–on her terms–in response to a toxic boss.
“I woke up one morning and I was like, I can’t do this anymore,” she says. “I’m too old to have to work for somebody like that and like dread going into work, or go in crying, because he asked me if I needed to be home early so I can make my husband dinner.”
Jessie built a purpose-driven event planning business, WE Events Chicago, to help non-profits and individuals incorporate activities that give back while hosting fundraisers, parties and parents night out.
“Everything I do has a charitable component with my event planning,” she says. “This way I can do it my own way doing something I love, which is the creative side, as well as, we have a crafty side to it to like collaboration art and all that kind of stuff.”
In addition to paid client work, Jessie and her lean operation make time to support preferred charities through a pro bono program. This year, that list includes Hello Baby, The Nora Project and Shine Fertility.
“I’m exhausted,” she admits. “I wish that I could shut off after five o’clock. But it has also been fantastic because I have made some amazing connections and it’s also nice to know that I’m doing it on my own and I’m a role model now.”
Jessie tries to make it a fun work environment for her “twenty-something” employees as well as family-friendly enough for parents to bring their kids if childcare falls through.
“If it’s something that we can do and you can still hang out with your kids–we’re prepping a backdrop, whatever–I’m fine with that,” she says.
“I want it to be a better work experience more fun, open, making people feel good, too, because every part has some sort of giving back component.”
Giving Back: How This Mompreneur Makes it Work
Jessie feels the same way about building a business model that works for her, and a workplace that supports the unique needs of her employees, that she does about giving back.
“There’s no one size fits all,” she says. “Some people want to write a check. Some people want to go volunteer at their organization. Some people want to do it at home.”
When we spoke, Jessie rattled off several ways to give back that don’t require a lot of time or money, including picking up trash in your neighborhood, or using sidewalk chalk to write inspiring notes.
She encourages clients to rethink occasions where guests feel compelled to bring a gift as an opportunity to give back, like asking for board books that can be donated to a local shelter.
“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and just getting your kids involved early on, makes a huge difference,” she says.
Jessie’s daughter wanted to do something for babies at her birthday party, so she set out to donate 100 boxes of diapers.
“She wrote letters to everybody and she ended up getting 250 packages,” says Jessie. “She saw that impact and it was enormous.”
Even if you’re in a season of parenting puts time or money at a premium, Jessie believes that small gestures like holding the door open, or making an extra batch of cookies for a nursing home, can go a long way.
“A lot of it is just like being kind,” she says. “A smile can make a big difference, and that is a way of giving back.”