Jenny Rice Cotton: President of Gracewood

interview by Kimberly Davis Guerra

For so many, going to work is just a job. A means to a paycheck and a way to fill your days. For others, it is so much more. Our profile this month features someone who definitely falls in the latter category. 

Seemingly on a life path going in a predictable pattern, Jenny Rice Cotton was abruptly thrust in a new direction. This life adjustment took place at a time in her life when most are settled and stable, not looking to blaze new trails. However, that is exactly what Jenny did. We sat down to discover more about her and her journey.

Jenny, you have such an amazing story of transformation that I think many women can relate to. Can you share a little bit about your journey? How did you come to Gracewood?

I had been a stay-at-home mom with a fairly comfortable life, and, in my mid 40s, I found myself a single mother who needed work. I didn’t realize I would also find a career.  Working at Gracewood since 2013, I rose in the ranks from an entry level position to President of the organization by 2017. Being a part of this Christian-based non-profit that helps families in crisis – single mothers with children – get back on their feet is meaningful to me and something with which I can relate.

During such difficult times, what is the fire that keeps you going?

Motivation is often found in the most unexpected moments….when a mom, who came to Gracewood driving a car that leaked oil everywhere and had no air conditioning, shows me her new car she was able to buy after learning about financial stewardship…..being invited to a college graduation of a mom and hearing she’s worked 24 years to earn her degree…..coming to work after a program night and seeing sweet chalk art left from the kids playing the night before, like my girls used to do…..seeing the 2 teen age boys who come home from school and play pickup games of basketball, knowing they both came from unstable homes…..hearing how a little girl, who had been living from hotel to hotel with her family of 6 and struggled to have good behavior in class, has now had her teacher call her mom to see what’s different after only living her for 2 weeks (her behavior was dramatically improved), hearing about a mom and father reconcile their family  and are expecting a new baby. These are the moments that keep me going. 

Gracewood rescues children and their single mothers,
ensuring a bright future by providing home, hope, and healing.

Many of our readers have never heard of Gracewood? Can you tell us more about the amazing organization?

Simply, Gracewood is a program that help single-mother led families in crisis.  Often when these families are faced with hard situations and things like shelter and meeting basic needs are unattainable, the children enter the foster system and their moms try to recover.  We keep the kids safe and families intact.  We work to build strong families by helping women get jobs so they can earn money and get started again.  We help the situationally homeless.  

We are not an emergency shelter.  Rather, we are a program for motivated moms.  The families are here due to many reasons…underemployment, abandonment, financial crisis. Some moms have only a high school diploma and some come with a master’s degree.  Anyone could find themselves here, no matter what their background. The common thread is that they all are here, working to make a better life for their children.

Gracewood rescues children and their single mothers,
ensuring a bright future by providing home, hope, and healing.

The mission of Gracewood touches many heart strings. How can our readers get involved to help?

I often say it takes a village to raise this village.  Help comes in many forms, whether it’s time, talent or treasure.  We have lists of needs and volunteer opportunities.  Simple things like toilet paper/household cleaning supply drives help keep costs down, groups volunteering to provide childcare on Tuesday nights while moms attend weekly program, donating gently used clothes (especially for kids at the moment), helping with winter coat drive for kids. Every little bit helps. 

We are 100% privately funded.  We need friend-raisers as much as fundraisers, helping share our work with our community.  

What if someone is in need of the services of Gracewood? How can they get help?

A comprehensive list of qualifications to be admitted to our program and an admission application can be found at www.gracewood.org or call our office 713-988-9757.

HFM loves shining a light on organizations like Gracewood and women committed to making a difference in our community. Thank you for all of the work you do. Our city is the better for you.