Jess Lazzara

“I always knew I wanted to be in the early childhood field—my second-grade career project will show you that—but the only path I saw prior to Jumpstart was teaching.”

Throughout 2019, in honor of Jumpstart’s 25th Anniversary, we will be highlighting 25 Faces of Jumpstart. This campaign celebrates the wide variety of people who have played a major role in Jumpstart’s history — our founders, volunteers from Jumpstart’s past, Jumpstart children and their families, influential donors and supporters, and more. We cannot wait to share their stories with you — how they helped shape and grow Jumpstart into what it is today, the impact that Jumpstart has had on their own lives, and their vision for the next 25 years of Jumpstart.

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If there’s one word to describe Jess Lazzara’s relationship with Jumpstart, it’s enduring. At 22 years and counting, Jess is Jumpstart’s longest tenured employee. Her official tenure is 19 of those years; she spent three years in Jumpstart classrooms as a volunteer before she joined the organization in 2000.

“I have stayed with Jumpstart for so long because I am passionate about our mission, inspired by the people, and a huge believer that what Jumpstart does can be a true gamechanger for children, families, and classrooms. I want to be a part of that!”

When Jess arrived at Wheelock College in Boston her freshman year, she already had three jobs. But as a first-generation college student paying much of her own way, she also needed work-study. She was delighted to find a flyer promoting Jumpstart; getting paid to work with children seemed ideal. She applied and was accepted to the program, only to discover that the first weekend training at Camp Ramapo conflicted with her first day at one of her other jobs.

Jess was disappointed to have to turn down the Jumpstart position, but she still spent many hours in Wheelock’s Jumpstart office, volunteering for various opportunities and socializing with Jumpstart volunteers from all over Boston.

When sophomore year came around, she almost didn’t reapply, but at the last minute, she decided to call and see if there might be a spot for her. Thankfully, the answer was yes, and, as Jess says, “I never looked back and never regretted it!”

“I have stayed with Jumpstart for so long because I am passionate about our mission, inspired by the people, and a huge believer that what Jumpstart does can be a true gamechanger for children, families, and classrooms. I want to be a part of that!”

After finishing her initial commitment, Jess eagerly signed on to serve for the remainder of college. Splitting her time between two local Boston Head Start centers, Jess served in every one of Jumpstart’s possible volunteer roles and then joined the field staff as an employee after graduation. Later, she moved into a regional program director role, where she successfully grew Jumpstart’s impact in Boston through various partnerships and innovations.

Jumpstart’s leaders recognize how much Jumpstart shapes its alumni’s careers, many of whom decide to become early childhood educators because of their Jumpstart service. The same was true for Jess, but with a twist. She says, “I always knew I wanted to be in the early childhood field—my second-grade career project will show you that—but the only path I saw prior to Jumpstart was teaching. My Jumpstart service taught me three important things: there are so many meaningful careers in early childhood outside of the classroom; I really wanted to work in a job that served the underserved; and I could be—and, in fact, already was—a leader in early education.”

For the last 14 years, Jess has been a part of Jumpstart’s national education and research team. In 2012, she assumed her current role as Vice President of Education and Research, dedicated to using research, best practices, and feedback from the field to inform Jumpstart’s current and future programming. She loves working with others to conceptualize and develop new, innovative models in order to deepen Jumpstart’s impact on children, volunteers, and early childhood educators.

Jess has high hopes for Jumpstart’s future. “There were many times over the last 22 years when things felt daunting and like huge dreams, but we have accomplished them,” she says. “Jumpstart has evolved and grown so much since those first years, in just a few cities with everyone sort of figuring out our way. I look back now and feel proud at what we have accomplished. I look ahead and feel excited as we plan to evolve again. And, while it can sometimes feel intimidating, I admire Jumpstart and its staff’s ability to dream big and push harder. There is always risk and even failures involved with reward and growth.”

From 22 years of deep, personal experience, Jess feels confident that Jumpstart’s foundational principles—a commitment to research–informed programming, the persistent drive for quality, and a focus on the impact of people and relationships—will continue to guide the organization to success for many years to come.

 

Some quotes have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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