PHOTOS BY JOLANA HOLLISTER
A Rochesterian born and raised, Jennifer Boutte has maintained a lifelong commitment to making our community more equitable, more accessible and a place made for everyone to live. As vice president of community engagement for Goodwill of the Finger Lakes, Jennifer continues her passion with veracity and determination.
We sat down and spoke with Jennifer about her life, her joys, her career and more.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your history. Who is Jennifer Boutte?
Rochester native and proud City School District grad of Edison Tech. I went on to Delaware State University, ranking in the top 10 of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and later went to Roberts Wesleyan College to complete my bachelor’s in organizational management and master’s in strategic leadership.
I’m also a proud mother of one daughter, Aaliyah, who will be attending North Carolina Central University in fall 2022.
What does your role as vice president of community engagement for Goodwill entail?
As vice president of community engagement, I oversee all fundraising and development, marketing and public relations for Goodwill of the Finger Lakes. With my team of seven, including four who directly report to me, I also manage the Good Neighbor Program.
What inspires you?
I’m always inspired knowing I can make a difference in the lives of others — family, friends and communities alike.
This is a new role for you. Tell us a little about how you decided to take on this role and what your plans are for the future.
When I started this role, I was seeking something where I could impact the community on a greater scale. Goodwill of the Finger Lakes is an organization with a lot of moving parts, and after looking at and understanding the social enterprise model, I realized there were opportunities to take the organization into parts of the community that they didn’t historically impact.
And as for the future, only God knows!
Who are some of the strong women you feel have inspired you?
I would say the women in my family — especially my late maternal grandmother—and my circle of friends, my mentors and women like Michelle Obama. Women who are strong, fearless and full of grace.
What do you feel is the key to women empowering other women?
The key to women empowering other women is understanding and honoring the importance of sisterhood. Be intentional about recognizing that every woman has a perspective and story that isn’t far different from yours. Although we all come from different backgrounds, there are some shared experiences that we should honor, understand and celebrate.
What do you feel makes you a leader, especially within your role dealing with community engagement for Goodwill?
Being unafraid to go where the people are. You can’t serve people without knowing what their needs are. With our Good Neighbor Program, we have the ability to immediately provide essential goods among other services. And when we can’t provide the services people in our community need, we can connect them to our roster of more than 40 community-focused partners.
Tell us about some of your goals and dreams for you personally and professionally.
Personally, I’m excited to witness and support my daughter’s new journey as an undergraduate at an HBCU. It’s a wonderful experience as a mom to watch her grow up and find her own way.
Professionally, I anticipate a lot of growth in leadership over the next two to five years. I do want to get more involved in engaging and serving others on a national level and eventually on a global level. I want to provide hope. It’s fantastic that we can provide immediate goods and supplies, but providing hope — going beyond the service — is what truly motivates me.
Share one quote that you feel defines you and your vision.
My favorite scripture is Psalm 46:5 — “God is within her, she will not fail.” It inspires me to keep going, keep pushing, and knowing that while the climb may be tough, the view from the top is worth it.
Name a female leader you look up to for mentorship and guidance.
My mother, Joyce, and two aunts, Cathy and Shirley — affectionately known as “Sallie’s Girls.” I always consult the three of them. Whenever I’m experiencing a teachable moment, a character-building moment, a decision-making moment — I look to them. They’ve already figured out how to navigate through the waters of leadership and life. While my experiences are different from theirs, I always look to them as a reminder of the shoulders of the women who came before me in building the woman I am today.
If you could do one thing you have never done, what would it be and why?
I am a firm believer that everything happens in its own season. Things that I have aspired to do up until now have worked out the way they’re supposed to. And everything that I’ve done has led me to where I am now. It’s all part of the journey.
What is something that makes you truly happy?
Traveling with my daughter. We love exploring new and fun destinations, especially where there’s delicious food, gorgeous art and fun shopping.
What’s one piece of advice you’ve been given that you’ve never forgotten?
Never let the room change you — you change the room.
What do you feel are the most important attributes of a successful leader in 2022?
Being empathetic, listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond, being trustworthy, keeping the lines of communication open. And always being true to who you are.
How do you continue to grow both personally and professional? What have been some things that have worked well for you, and some that have not?
I stay connected to my faith, always being ready for a challenge and making it a point to never stop learning. Local job opportunities, while all critical to my professional growth, have shown to me the leader I want to be versus the leader I didn’t want to be.
What is your vision for the programs and outreach you’re in charge of?
To continue to operate in places and spaces that Goodwill of the Finger Lakes didn’t have a presence in prior to my appointment, and to continue to expand our partnerships with other community organizations across the Finger Lakes region while, in turn, strengthening our community impact.
What have you found to be the best way to get the community involved?
Continuous outreach — community impact is solely dependent on not being afraid to go where the people are. If you cannot connect to them, you cannot equitably serve them.
Where were you prior to taking on this role with Goodwill? Did that experience help you transition into this new career path easier?
I was at CDS Life Transitions, serving as director of development and community engagement. Working with our housing division made me realize just how important it is to stay connected to and build relationships with the communities that we serve.
Tell us about running for Monroe County clerk three years ago. What was this experience like? Would you do it again?
Running for Monroe County clerk was an opportunity based on principle, not politics. Honoring democracy means that everyone deserves a choice. That said, my running was more about serving people than securing the seat.
Would I do it again?
To be continued.
Where will we see you next?
I still have some learning to do, some growing to do, some exploring to do. Only time will tell.