Welcome Jay Fordham!
The Piedmont Renewal Network is excited to announce the arrival of our new Director of Operations, Jay Fordham! Two weeks into his time with our team, Jay has demonstrated himself to be both a tremendous asset and a pleasure to work with. Moving forward, he will be central to our mission lifting children out of poverty in Winston-Salem. In this week’s blog, Jay answers a few questions about himself, his passions, and his work for the PRN:
What’s your educational background?
My educational background is somewhat out of the ordinary, by traditional standards. It started to go off of the normal path when I entered high school. Having just finished eighth grade with roughly 50 peers, I was overwhelmed by the idea of walking onto a normal high school campus which could have upwards of 1,000 students each day. My parents recognizing my concern, and helped me apply to our local early college. Unlike many other early college programs which last four years, my county laid out a five year track to obtain both our high school diploma and associate degree. I tried to be a bit more ambitious and finished the program in four years, with the exception of one course, which I took at Western Carolina University. Five semesters later, I graduated with my Bachelors degree in Business, concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Along the way, I interned at Camp Merri-Mac for Girls and Camp Timberlake for Boys, and worked a summer at Laurel Ridge Moravian Camp, Conference & Retreat Center. These proved to be educational experiences for different reasons. Merri-Mac and Timberlake hired me as the technology intern, and allowed me to learn the importance of social media from a business perspective, as opposed to a personal one. Laurel Ridge was a great learning opportunity that allowed me to realize my passion for helping others in the community through acts of service, and the importance of empowering our youth.
Where did you grow up?
My life started right here in Forsyth County at Forsyth Hospital. My parents lived in Clemmons, along with one set of grandparents and cousins, while the other set of grandparents and family lived in Winston-Salem. It was really quite amazing. Everyone was within close walking or driving distance, and everyone would gather for family fellowship frequently. Church was always really important (and still is) to the whole family. We attend Calvary Moravian Church downtown on Holly Ave. I’ll never forget when it was time to leave church, that my parents would tell me that I wasn’t allowed to walk to the car by myself. This was also in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when downtown was still heavily boarded up, and Krankies seemed like it was on the fringe of being located in the middle of nowhere. What’s so interesting about this, is that while we were no more than a mile away from HWY 52, we never crossed it. This wasn’t so much because my parents were against it. We would travel Business 40 periodically to go to Kernersville, Greensboro and beyond. Looking back on my childhood, I realize that we just never had any real reason to go over there. In many ways it makes me sad from an immersion standpoint. I lived like many other middle-class kids in the suburbs. We rode our bikes, scooters and walked our dogs around the cul-de-sac. We rode the bus home each day from school, and would often be greeted by at least a few parents from the neighboring homes. My ignorance about the economic gap that is seemingly carved by 52 wasn’t really corrected until the last couple of years, and even more so the last few months.
Why nonprofit work?
Since the earliest time I can remember, I’ve been told that I am an old soul. While most of my peers were out playing soccer, tennis, basketball or football, I was too focused on making sure I was constantly surrounded by people much older than me. I enjoyed very few things more than listening to adults speak, and then adding to the conversation periodically. Through their conversations in the home, business and church, it was instilled at a very young age that we are on Earth to make an impact, love others, and show grace in all that we do. This planted a deeply rooted focus on service-oriented volunteering, and ultimately led my youth group to attend a local mission camp each summer, alongside other church groups. This is where I decided that I would work for a nonprofit in some capacity later in life.
Why are you particularly excited about the PRN?
My dad worked for the YMCA as a branch director, and spoke frequently about the importance of serving the community. He would come home with stories of various people who had grown closer to their full potential of spirit, mind and body while exercising at the facilities. That kind of impact was awe-inspiring to me. When we fast forward to my college graduation, I contemplated working for a nonprofit hoping to make a difference, but was concerned that a job in the industry wouldn’t be capable of paying the bills. As a result, I followed one of my long-time loves: cars. I just left the automotive industry after four tiring and exciting years. A couple of months ago, I was driving down Martin Luther King Jr DR, and some of its connecting streets. Keep in mind, I had very little knowledge of this area of town. I was appalled by the some of the living conditions, and blown away by the vast difference in the economy just a few hundred yards beyond Winston’s most thriving area, the Innovation Quarter. That night I spoke with my girlfriend about what I had seen, and decided that I had to be a part of a change-agent; something that could make a drastic and lasting impact for our neighbors within the community of Forsyth County. As life would have it, I found the position of Operations Director the next morning, and applied right then. I was more than excited, as I sent direct messages on LinkedIn, email, and even offered to make a visit to the office before I had ever been asked to interview.
“I was appalled by the some of the living conditions, and blown away by the vast difference in the economy just a few hundred yards beyond Winston’s most thriving area, the Innovation Quarter. That night I spoke with my girlfriend about what I had seen, and decided that I had to be a part of a change-agent; something that could make a drastic and lasting impact for our neighbors within the community of Forsyth County.”
If I’m not at work or church, I enjoy three things: people, cars and boats. All through school, we would periodically visit my great uncle who lived on the Pungo River, or hang out with Grandma Betty on Lake Norman. There we would take the sailboat out on the channel, or take the ski boat out with the tube. I very quickly realized something super cool; the importance of fellowship and community. This helped develop my passion for people. While ironic considering that I classify myself as an introvert, I love spending time talking with people. When it’s too cold to go out on the boat, and no one is available to hangout, I enjoy driving around. I’ve been known to make many day trips to the beach and mountains, sometimes far enough away that as soon as I arrive, it’s time to turn around.
Favorite thing about Winston-Salem?
Downtown is by far one of the coolest places to live in the area. What was once a boarded up area, even in my own lifetime, is now a thriving and bustling ecosystem. Our downtown is growing at a rapid pace, and now boasts many parks, breweries, restaurants and even many free summer music events.
Special thanks to Jay for taking the time out to sit for this interview. You can contact Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.