Our Stories

Stepping up During a Crisis

They might be retired but right now they’re working five days a week. For Bob and Lois Jernigan it’s a labor of love, though. For years they have volunteered at the Lilburn Cooperative Ministry, so when COVID-19 turned the world upside down and the co-op needed more help, they stepped up.

“I started volunteering with the co-op in 2002 after I retired as an elementary teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools,” Lois said. “Bob retired a little while after that, after a career as a hospital medical technologist, and he began volunteering too. We’d help out a couple days a week, but when COVID-19 started and they became short staffed we started helping more.”

Along with volunteering, the Jernigans also love helping fund various nonprofits, which they do through the Community Foundation. Their financial advisor Scott Phelan, who is a senior vice president, senior portfolio management director at Morgan Stanley, knows how much they love to give. So he suggested they create the Jernigan Family Foundation through the Community Foundation. They took his advice and, with the help of the Community Foundation’s staff,  quickly and easily created their own foundation.

“We love that we’re part of a bigger community, in that many people are giving and it’s going in many different directions and meeting many needs,” Lois said. “We’ve also loved going to the Good2Give Celebrations and hearing the stories of homeless families finding a place to live, of scholarships being given so kids can go to college, and so on. We also like the fact that having a family foundation provides tax benefits and we can give money tax free. Plus we know they’re investing our money properly and helping it multiply.”

For both Bob and Lois, giving is part of who they are.

“We both feel that if we see something we’re interested in, and it’s a need, then we should contribute in any way we can,” Bob said. “We’ve been blessed and have the resources so we want to help our community.”

Sharon Foster, executive director of the Lilburn Co-op, has experienced the Jernigan’s generosity first hand.

“When I came on board in August 2017, they were among the first to accept me and my vision for the co-op,” Sharon said. “I can honestly say that they are two of the most genuine people that I have ever met, and their Christian faith is evident in everything they do. Their wonderful and kind spirit, as well as their unyielding support of Lilburn Co-op, is truly a blessing; especially during this awful pandemic which has caused us to lose about 70 percent of our volunteer help.

“Lois rarely misses a day helping to sort and price the donations we receive for our thrift store.  Whether she takes a hunk of tangled jewelry home to separate and price, after a day on her feet at the Co-op, or pitches in to help the pantry workers get the groceries to the clients quickly, or even sets up for a board meeting or a volunteer appreciation event, her pleasant personality shines through each task.  She also has an incredible knack for identifying those who may need an immediate sandwich or drink of water; especially the children.  I know that she had to have been an awesome educator and inspiration to her students during her career.”

And when it comes to Bob, Sharon smiles. 

“‘Where’s my guy,’ I often ask Lois when I don’t see him,” Sharon said. “Bob tends to move quickly from one task to another and always with a smile on his face, and a warm pat on your shoulder.  Weighing incoming and outgoing food, securing boxes for packing and pushing out client groceries, ensuring that the facility is kept tidy, and filling in for other volunteers when they are absent are just a mere few of the things Bob does for the co-op. 

“During this time of such dramatic change for us all, this couple never hesitated, nor waivered in their physical and financial support of the Lilburn Co-op. This remarkable couple would never seek accolades for the blessings that they give; however, it is evident to all who know them, that the blessings of the Lord is truly upon them.”

Native Georgians who have lived in Stone Mountain for 40+ years, the Jernigans are active in their church, Smoke Rise Baptist. They also have two sons and daughters in law as well as four grandchildren.

Along with gardening, volunteering is really where their heart is.

“I taught school for 30 years with Gwinnett County and some with the Atlanta public school system,” Lois said. “I love kids so I do a lot of volunteering at the church with kids and now teach fourth grade Sunday School. I just believe that every child should have food to eat. I don’t think any child should be hungry or living in a car. I just feel strongly that children should have a good family system to live in.”

Early in their marriage, starting with feeding hungry students involved in the University of North Georgia’s Baptist Student Union, the Jernigans decided that if they saw a need and felt like they should contribute, they would make every effort to help. And, as their lives reflect, that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Interested in learning how you can become a fundholder at the Community Foundation? Contact Randy Redner at rredner@cfneg.org or 770-813-3384 .