“I can’t even remember when I first started playing basketball. My father wanted a boy, but he had two girls, so I was the daughter who gravitated towards his love of sports.” Jess grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York before attending Butler University in Indiana, where she studied Communications with a minor in Business and was a member of the women’s basketball team. Jess went on to study law at Syracuse University and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2009.
Jess currently resides in Philadelphia and works as an attorney at Cozen O’Connor. While working for Cozen O’Connor, Jess enrolled in a training class for professionals seeking leadership responsibilities with nonprofit organizations. Her intention was to serve on a board for a sports-based youth development nonprofit. Knowing her interests and basketball experience, her boss, Michael Heller, connected Jess with his friend and PYB President, Kenny Holdsman. After researching nonprofits throughout the area and sitting down with Kenny, Jess realized her involvement with PYB was a fantastic opportunity to be a part of an organization that was truly “unique, focused, and capable of achieving great success.”
“A basketball-based youth development organization was a natural fit and I appreciated PYB’s emphasis on academic enrichment, which is something I don’t see many other sport-based programs doing.”
Now that Jess has had the opportunity to visit the PYB programs, participate in board meetings and meet the PYB team, her initial beliefs have been reaffirmed. “Joining the board I saw a very diverse group of members, all from different backgrounds and industries that were excited and fully devoted to making it all work.”
One of the highlights of Jess’ experience with PYB, and one of the highlights of our Collegiate Summer Camp Series (CSCS), was the Cozen O’Connor CSCS visit. Cozen O’Connor graciously sponsored our Drexel University camp week and during one afternoon camp session over 20 Cozen O’Connor lawyers braved the unairconditioned gym of the Drexel Armory to scrimmage our campers. In what was a David and Goliath battle for the ages (the campers being Goliath), the campers prevailed on a buzzer beater! Highlights of the game were featured on CBS Philly, check it out HERE!
Following the game, Cozen O’Connor’s President and CEO, Michael Heller, who also suited up for the day, spoke to the campers about lessons he learned throughout his career on what it takes to reach your goals. As a business leader who equates his success to his involvement in sports at a young age, Michael was a great role-model and mentor for our campers. Recalling the experience, Jess was “impressed by the kids’ maturity and respect. When Michael spoke the campers were engaged, and asked thoughtful questions. Around the lawyers and other adults the campers were not shy and they were very personable.”
On October 10th, PYB begins its third year of the Middle School Partnership Program (MSPP). One exciting component of this year’s program is our emerging leadership framework. As an experienced student-athlete throughout high school and college, Jess brings a valuable opinion on the importance of leadership training for young people. “Leadership is important because in life you are exposed to so many different people and personalities and leaders know how to work well with others and handle stress. The skills kids learn when they are in a close game and need to stay poised and strategic are the same skills you use when you are under a tight deadline or in a difficult situation at work.”
“Being a student-athlete is challenging, but life is about balance. Learning how to manage time, handle stress, and how to be a student first is very important. You can be the best athlete, but you can’t go far without a strong GPA as well. PYB understands this balance and it is the reason why the academic curriculum is so exciting to me. I see the kids enjoying academics during PYB sessions. They don’t tune out, they are grateful for the extra help and know it is a privilege they must take advantage of.”
Jess continues to bring great value to our growing and diverse Board of Directors. Her tireless work ethic landed her on the Philadelphia Business Journal’s list of top 25 young lawyers on the rise, and she will undoubtedly use her best efforts to help PYB elevate its game to a whole new level! As a closing remark Jess asked that we remind everyone of one simple fact, “We can all take part in helping PYB succeed!” My friend reached out to CBS and then they picked up the Cozen lawyers v. PYB campers story. Anyone can write a blog article or reach out to a friend who has connections. The more we get the PYB name out there, the better!”
By MaryKate O’Brien, Community Mobilization Coordinator