Meet Jenny Turner Koltnow, Director of Communications and Development at Church Health, a founding member of Girls on the Run and founder of Staxtacular, a fundraiser for Stax Music Academy. This Wisconsin native earned her B.S. and M.Ed. at Vanderbilt University, put down roots in her beloved Memphis and now lives in Germantown with her husband, PJ, and their two active sons and chocolate lab puppy. Her love of running is both literal and metaphorical as this woman is truly running the race to make Memphis a better place. Whether it is for girls, individuals, families, small businesses or entrepreneurs, Jenny’s mission is to provide support systems and resources to those challenged to access some of life’s most important needs, so that they can fulfill their dreams and live healthy lives. We are delighted to introduce Jenny Turner Koltnow, our newest FACE of Memphis!
Tell us about your work with Girls on the Run (GOTR) and what inspired you to start a GOTR council in Memphis.
I had chatted with friends for years and said we needed to bring a Girls on the Run to Memphis, but I didn’t really know how. It was fortuitous that 18 months ago, FedEx sponsored a program during the St. Jude Classic where the founder of GOTR, Molly Barker, was the keynote speaker. I reached out to her to express an interest in starting a council in Memphis. About eight of us spent some time with her for about an hour, and the work began the next day! We have been an official council for 10 months. We are in four schools and getting ready to expand in many others, but our vision is to work with girls grades 3 through 8, at this vulnerable period in their development, to help them to build their own confidence, self-esteem, relationships with peers and endeavor to do the things that otherwise, without that support system, might scare or intimidate them.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far with Girls on the Run?
I want to emphasize this is not just another running club or a wellness program. This is not a program to confront or combat childhood obesity. This is a social and emotional development opportunity that integrates activity and fun while fostering relationships amongst our participants and the people who volunteer. We have discovered every girl needs this support system. It doesn’t matter what their background is, how much or how little experience they have had with sports or what their family dynamics are, our girls need a support system. They need encouragement; they need an opportunity at this stage in life to set goals and to confront adversity. This incredible curriculum helps them to do that, but also provides the security of knowing that outside the twice-weekly practices, your running team is your tribe and support, so that they can overcome obstacles well beyond the program.
You left a corporate position with AutoZone and joined Church Health. Tell us about your decision to go full-time in the nonprofit sector.
I had been familiar with Church Health for many years and had always been moved and inspired by the mission and frankly, felt like, what would our community do without this organization that is really helping people who have fallen in the gap and don’t have access to insurance? It was really an alignment of the stars when I learned of the opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity and be able to apply my experiences and skill set for both communications and fundraising. There are so many people who need medical care, dental care, counseling and support and have nowhere to turn when they are hurting or sick. Church Health takes care of people and makes sure their needs are being met, but what’s really special is the ‘whole person’ health mentality we have. Our approach considers the person’s total well-being — their movement, relationships with friends and family, spiritual health, emotional health, nutrition, their work and their financial well-being. We work with our patients to make sure all of those issues are being addressed and that they have access to the resources to overcome those things that get in the way of enjoying their life and pursuing their goals. It’s a special place. We have an incredible team, and our Crosstown location enables us to work with a broader group of people and pool greater resources to meet people where they are.
What is your role with Soulsville Foundation?
Here is another exceptional organization! I have had the honor of serving on the board of the Soulsville Foundation for a year, but I started Staxtacular in 2005. Where would our city be without the history and legacy of Stax Records? More exciting is where Soulsville is going and the work they are doing to teach our future musicians and leaders in the entertainment industry at Stax Academy while preparing hundreds of kids for life after high school at the Soulsville Charter School. The campus is such an asset, and incredible things are coming out of there each and every day. I am excited about the future of the children who are involved with their programs and their school.
What are some small things that make your day better?
Hot coffee, a hard run, morning silence and music — and my son reaching out to hold my hand (he’s 10!) when we leave school. My boys are not little anymore, and I savor being their number one girl while I can.
What music or podcasts do you like to listen to?
Standup comedy on SiriusXM. I’ve been known to be alone in the car and have a great belly laugh.
What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?
Discovering my son’s and my shared love of the Kacey Musgraves song “Rainbow” made a recent weekend awesome. I get my energy from people, and I love being outdoors. I love thoughtful conversation. An ideal weekend … could be a spontaneous weekend cookout, a family outing or getting dressed up for a night out. These all bring joy and create memories.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
Just about anything — Memphis and why I’ve called Memphis home for 20 years, the Grizzlies circa 2001 to 2013, running as a metaphor for life …
What’s the most surprising self-realization you’ve had?
Running is my medicine, my mindfulness, my mood booster. It has also been very powerful in helping me to focus and set goals. Through running, I have made great friends, and it’s much more of the social sport than people might realize.
Best piece of advice?
When I was finishing the new Memphis Fellows program and a few weeks from having my first child, someone told me to remember that when you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you say ‘no’ to another. I originally saw this as advice about prioritizing, but as life has evolved, I realize there is a deeper meaning spiritually and emotionally … oftentimes you have to choose to see that good can come from doubt and challenges. When you are mentoring others and parenting, you must choose your words wisely. It all boils down to saying ‘yes’ to one thing is saying ‘no’ to another.
What are three things you can’t live without, aside from faith, family and friends?
Nalgene water bottle — I’m very aware that I have saved a heck of a lot of plastic water bottles from the landfill; coffee first thing in the morning; and my smartphone — I use my phone to listen to podcasts and decompress and learn on the run.
Thanks to Jenny for chatting with us, and thanks to Elizabeth Looney for the beautiful photos!
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