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2015 Most Influential Women Honoree: Jan Jones

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Jan Jones is an opportunity seeker. She helps people work toward their dreams, despite any disability. Through her drive and motivation, Jones leads the 36-year-old Abilities First Inc., which focuses on the values of choice, equality and dignity as it seeks to break down the barriers people with disabilities face by providing employment and support opportunities.

Jones spent four years as the assistant executive director before moving into the executive director role in 2008. In that role, she is responsible for planning, organizing, developing and overseeing community programs for individuals with development disabilities. She also represents Abilities First in community activities and public awareness events and actively participates in professional organizations to stay current with best practices.

“I work to ensure that our organization provides family-supporting jobs and a positive, flexible environment for employees,” she says. “People with development disabilities are currently one of the many marginalized groups.

“All people need opportunities. It is my responsibility to ensure that those opportunities are available to benefit not just people with development disabilities, but to benefit the community as a whole.”

Jones’ skills have evolved since her days as a service coordinator with the state of Missouri, a position she held for eight years. That foundation enabled her to create a new organization for helping those with disabilities, First Steps for Families. In its early days, Jones took on a caseload of roughly 40 clients. Now, Abilities First has grown from two employees to 120, serving approximately 2,000 people a month. “I believe in setting the bar high and reaching it,” she says.

Through Jones’ dedication over the past 10 years, Abilities First has stepped up to meet needs when necessary.

“Jan’s dedication to improving the lives of individuals with development disabilities as a means to improve our overall community has resulted in tremendous change to our organization,” says H.P. Montgomery, an Abilities First board member. “Jan brings a fresh perspective and more ways to continue to improve what we do.”

Jones believes in finding the strengths in team members and helping each member identify and build his or her own strengths.

“I want people to have the chance to be their best, to work in a supportive environment and to know that leadership expects people to make mistakes,” she says.

Jones is a Missouri State University alumni, receiving her bachelor’s in education before going on to finish her master’s in management public administration at the University of Phoenix.

Outside accomplishments in her current position, Jones has held numerous leadership positions with the Junior League of Springfield, including serving as chairwoman and project review and development chairwoman for leadership selection. She also serves as a committee member for groups such as the Kid First Committee, Impacting Poverty Committee and the Nonprofit Roundtable.


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