A Servant’s Heart for Other Women
A lot of people figured Jan Straight would flunk retirement.
She’s actually found it “quite fulfilling,” balancing the need to travel with a life-long desire to help others. And she’s looking forward to a future filled with more of the same.
Among those most thankful for her smooth transition is the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids, which since 1973 has been advocating to improve the women’s workplace and economic opportunities through programs and services that empower and educate.
“Most didn’t believe I was going to move into retirement gracefully,” Jan says with a smile. “But I checked out various forms of volunteering and what would possibly be the best fit for me.”
A native of the Kalamazoo area, Jan grew up in East Lansing, graduating from high school there and then earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois-Chicago in secondary education with a major in ethnic history and a focus on teaching in the inner city.
After graduating college, she moved with her husband Richard to the small town of Muir-Lyons, and unable to find a teaching job there, signed on as a medical assistant. After moving back to the Lansing area, she hired in at a low-entry job with an insurance firm, and worked her way up into adjustor and management positions while switching companies, retiring in 2004 after spending more than three decades in that industry.
That same year, Richard died of cancer, and Jan found herself traveling some, but also exploring those volunteer opportunities. “I had two good friends,” she recalls, “who had said to me, ‘You need to go to the Women’s Resource Center’ because I had managed, I understood the job search process, and knew what corporate really looks at.”
Though Jan wasn’t intimately familiar with the organization, she signed on, trained for six weeks, and slid into a role as mentor.
That was 12 years ago, and today, Jan is considered the longest continuing serving volunteer there, usually putting in six to eight hours a week. Though she’s somewhat tied to a schedule, she’s also on board to serve at a moment’s notice, and it’s not unusual for her to get a call that someone needs help, and what is she doing that afternoon?
She tends to serve women with one of three needs: They’re looking for a job to support themselves or their family. They may be underemployed and not earning enough. Or, they’re in a job they don’t like and need to change, but aren’t sure how to go about it.
Jan does a lot of listening, then uses her background and knowledge of programs and services to tailor a solution around those she coaches. And she relies heavily on staff at the Women's Resource Center (WRC) to help lead the way.
Jan, who was widowed a second time just under five years ago, is uniquely qualified to counsel women who have suffered similar loss, and especially how that might prompt them to work for a first time or in a different capacity.
In her spare time, she enjoys birding, hiking, traveling, kayaking, music, art – and serving on the Grand Rapids chapter of the “Citizens’ Climate Lobby,” a national non-profit organization focused on policies to address global climate change. (To learn more, e-mail: email@example.com)
In teaming with the WRC to help other women achieve their goals, Jan says she’s inspired by the women who come through the door there seeking new directions. “That’s what keeps me coming back,” she says, “people who fulfill me with their stories – and what I’m able to do in the sense of being a listening ear, and responding in an objective way, asking perhaps questions others are not asking of them, and helping through the process.
“That has really added a lot of meaning in my life, and that’s why I’m still there.”