The Power of Resilience, with Jas Boothe
Episode 23: The Power of Resilience, with Jas Boothe
Jas Boothe epitomizes the power of resilience and how much one person can do to make a positive change in the world. She is a disabled Army veteran, an activist, and the founder of Final Salute, an organization that seeks to provide safe and suitable housing to homeless women Veterans and their children. In this episode, Jas shares her story, how she decided that she needed to take matters in her own hands to be a changemaker, and how the lessons she learned in the military have helped her in her new path. This episode of the Ellevate Podcast is sponsored by Fidelity Investments.
00:28 KW: Hello! And welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Kristy Wallace, and I'm joined today by Maricella Herrera. Hello!
00:34 Maricella Herrera: Hi, Kristy.
00:35 KW: How's it going, how's your summer?
00:37 MH: My summer is good. I can't believe it's almost over.
00:40 KW: I know. This is, I think, one of the saddest times of year, 'cause we know we're moving into the New York winters.
00:48 MH: I know, winter is coming. I'm actually really scared about it, because as you know, I am... I do not do well with cold weather.
00:57 KW: I do know, I do know.
01:00 KW: Yes, alright. It's [chuckle] a lot to look forward to. So today, we have one of most interesting women I've ever met on the podcast, hugely inspirational. And this personality that just sparkles, if you could say that, right? She's just happy and positive, but yet, that has... I wouldn't say a great story. She's got a story that I think we all can learn from. So today we're talking to Jas Boothe, who's a disabled Army Veteran. She's a keynote speaker and activist. She's also the managing partner of Prowess All Veteran Modeling and Talent Agency, and the founder-President of Final Salute Inc. So she does a lot.
01:43 MH: She does a lot.
01:43 KW: As many women on our podcast do, I don't know how they manage it all, right? It's great.
01:48 MH: I have no idea. Was it The Skimm, or something? Where I was reading about the hyphen... Hyphenic person, or something like that? Where it's, basically, all those actor/model/whatever else. Our members are like CEO/...
02:03 KW: Founder.
02:03 MH: Founder/CMO.
02:05 KW: Board member.
02:06 MH: /Board member/Mentor/...
02:09 KW: Speakers/...
02:09 MH: Everything else.
02:10 KW: Thought leader.
02:11 MH: Yes.
02:12 KW: If you're all listening, Ellevate members, you rock, seriously. You inspire me every day.
02:18 MH: You really do. Which, kind of, brings me to a little plug here. If you wanna meet all these wonderful, awesome women in the Ellevate Network, September's a great month to do it. We have a promo going on, 20% off membership with the code: 'Invest in Yourself', until September 30th.
02:38 KW: Do it, and don't wait. You just have until September 30th, so join Ellevate and get access to articles, and webinars, and content, events, fantastic women, and great opportunities to raise your profile and show everyone all that you've accomplished, and what you're doing. So, join today, don't wait, don't wait.
03:00 MH: So Jas, you also spoke with her right after the podcast and event, didn't you?
03:05 KW: Yes, right after this podcast, we had an event in New York City, and we had Sam Ettus, who many of you have heard on the podcast, we had Jas Boothe, and some other fantastic women who will be coming onto the podcast soon.
03:19 MH: I wish... I couldn't make that event, unfortunately, but I heard it was great.
03:23 KW: Yeah. It was really great, and... But what that event was about, and what we talk about, Jas and I on the podcast, which we're gonna get to in just one quick moment. Is really about resilience, and she is someone who's been faced with quite a bit of adversity in her lifetime. From every direction, I feel like, and she really overcame it. And not only overcame it, but then turned around to lift others up and to help others who are facing similar challenges. So we do have a quick poll on this, and then we'll get to the podcast.
03:56 MH: Absolutely. So, our poll this week says, "How do you deal when things aren't going your way?" And I know my answer but, Kristy, what's yours?
04:06 KW: Uh... [laughter] It depends on the time of day. I think...
04:13 MH: Is it, if it's after 5:00, you drink wine?
04:16 KW: Exactly. Yes, maybe sometimes, before 5:00. I think this is a question where I would like to believe that I deal by tackling the problem and solving it. Just, head on, "Let's get this done." I'm sure if you'd ask my husband, he probably says I yell.
04:36 KW: I start yelling at everybody.
04:38 MH: We'll have to poll Jake on that.
04:39 KW: But, yeah [laughter] but we'll see. We'll see. What do our members say?
04:42 MH: Well, our members say... Almost half of them say that, they think about why it happened, and then strategize next step. So that, taking a moment to breath and then head on. 21% say they talk to their close friends and personal board of directors. 18% say they give themselves time to grieve and then move on. And 7% say, "I realize how fortunate I am on so many other levels." My two favorite though, is 2% say they throw themselves a pity-party. And 1% says, "Avoid thinking about it at all, ignorance is bliss."
05:24 KW: Ah, yep. Just, "It didn't happen. Deny, deny, deny." Alright, so we are gonna get to our interview with Jas, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. If you haven't already, please rate and review the podcast on iTunes. It means so much to us, and it helps us to keep doing this every week. So we really appreciate that, and now let's hear my interview with Jas.
05:58 KW: I'm really excited to talk to you today. And I wanted to start off just to hear a little bit about your story, 'cause it's a great story, and I will not do it justice. So can you please share some of that with us?
06:09 Jas Boothe: Okay. I hate giving the sad version, so I'll try to just make it more educational. [chuckle] But I am a 16-year Army veteran. I'm currently a Major in the Army Reserves. I am married to a Marine combat veteran. I have two boys, aged 20 and six. The 20-year-old currently serves in the Air Force, and the six-year-old currently runs me crazy.
06:33 KW: I have a seven-year-old. I feel... I totally understand.
06:36 JB: It's a little bit easier, as long as you give them something to play with and something to eat, they're good. So, just a little bit about me. Most people know me from my organization Final Salute, which is an organization that provides housing to homeless women veterans and their children, and prevents homelessness via emergency financial assistance. So people always ask, "What led you on this journey? Why are you on this particular mission?" Well, I found myself homeless in 2005. I was getting ready to deploy to Iraq, but I didn't make it. In August of 2005, I lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. In September of 2005, I received a head, neck, and throat cancer diagnosis. So these two events left me without a home, and without a job.
07:18 JB: So I spent the next few months undergoing cancer treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. And the cancer did respond to the radiation therapy, so I was able to get my cancer in remission. And that was actually the easy part. The next part was just trying to figure out how I was gonna take care of my kid. I was a single mother at that time. And so, I was told to seek services through the Department of Veterans Affairs because I was a veteran, and I was... Had a glimmer of hope because, at that point in time, I had only thought, like, Vietnam era veterans go to the VA, because you never heard, younger people taken care of, accessing the VA services. And so I went to the VA, explained them my situation. And they had services, but they didn't have any services for women veterans.
08:07 KW: Really?
08:07 JB: Yes. And to be an afterthought in 2005, was a bit of a slap in the face. As a nation, we've deployed over 30,000 single mothers into Iraq and Afghanistan. Women are veterans, women in military have... Some have given their lives in service of this country. So to not be able to receive the same level of supportive services as our male counterparts, it just let me know, as a nation, how far behind the times we still were.
08:38 KW: So what did you do about that?
08:39 JB: Well, after I stopped giving myself a pity-party...
08:44 KW: [laughter] Wow. That's a lot.
08:47 JB: Yeah. 'Cause I was battling depression during that time, and I was feeling like my service didn't matter. I wasn't very prideful. My little boy would come... Well, he was little at the time, he's like 6'4" now, but... He would just see me every morning sleeping on my aunt's couch. We stayed with my aunt for a few months 'till I was ready to get myself back on my feet. He would just come every morning. And he didn't look at me... He just thought we were staying there. He didn't look at me like, "Oh, we're homeless, and why don't we have our own place?" He just wanted to be with his mom. So it just put a lot of things in perspective for me, that this kid has no idea what we're going through. And I owe it to him to get off this couch, and to be a better person, and to strive to want more, and to support him. And so my son was actually my saving grace through that time. And so, I was able to find a job, once I started looking, fairly quickly, and then I...
09:43 KW: Within the military, or were you now in [09:45] ____?
09:45 JB: Well, I was in the Reserves, like, in the inactive Reserves at that time, because, again, my unit half were deployed. So I was kind of in military limbo. And so, my aunt at the time lived right outside of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and there was a unit on base, which was a National Guard unit that was looking for a civilian position. It was a Human Resources Officer position, and that's what I did in the military full time. And so I took that job as a civilian. However, I had to join the National Guard in order to accept it. Which was cool because, "Yay! I get to be back in uniform again!" And so I was there for a few months, and then I got offered the opportunity to come back on full time military duty in Washington, DC. And that's how I ended up in the DC Metro area.
10:33 JB: My mobilization site was Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and from my mobilization site I went to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin to go to postal school 'cause I was going to be a Postal Platoon Leader, so handle the mail, keep all the soldiers happy when we were in Iraq. The hurricane hit while we were at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, so I basically watched it on the news and I was like, "Wow, I've just lost everything that I own." And so when I got back to Fort Sill is when I received the cancer diagnosis, about 30 days out from shipping. And so, from there, I went down to the hospital in San Antonio, Texas, and was treated between there and Lackland Air Force Base, and then from there, I transitioned to my aunt's couch. [chuckle]
11:13 KW: Sounds like through your work now, you're providing that service for many others. That glimmer of hope, or that inspiration to keep going. Do you feel that?
11:21 JB: I definitely do. When I get to the DC Metro area, I had kinda written my situation off, as you know it. Maybe there's no services for women veterans, because maybe I was a freak accident. So nobody's gonna make one program... I mean, make a program for one person. But I started to do some research, and it's funny, the closer you get to DC, the more you get to see how really bad the problem is. So that's when I learned that there were tens of thousands of homeless women veterans. I said, "You know what?" It's now fast forward to the year 2010. And I said, "Well, let me see what resources are out there. That was like five, six years ago when my incident happened, so there has to be more, because we're deploying more and more women into Iraq and Afghanistan," and my search came up empty handed. I was like, "Are you serious? They're still not doing anything for women veterans?" And so I just decided that, "Well, you know what? Maybe I'm the person that's meant to start the conversation, or I'm the person that's meant to actually, you know, start an action, a movement," and so then that's when I decided to put my organization together.
12:28 KW: You're embarking down a road that requires a lot of work and blood, sweat, and tears, and energy, to be that change-maker. Did you know you were going on that journey, and and how do you feel now, years later?
12:44 JB: Well, no, I never thought that I was going to start a non-profit. I was the person who donated to causes, I wasn't the person who started causes. But the thing is, the military doesn't teach you to pass the buck. The military teaches you, from a leadership standpoint, if you see a problem, you fix it, and so I saw the problem as a solution that I needed to try to help work towards, as opposed to just complaining about it. And so, I just started talking to people, I didn't know where I was going to get the money from, I didn't know who was going to listen to me. But I do know that if you don't try, then you won't get any money and nobody will listen to you.
13:24 KW: Yep, absolutely.
13:25 JB: And so I would start going to association meetings, and just talking to one or two people, and that eventually turned into five to 20 people, and it just continued to escalate. And the rooms got bigger, and people just said, "Well, you know, regardless of who you're talking to, you talk the same," and I said, "Yeah, you never miss an opportunity because one of those two people could be the Fortune 500 president of some company, so... " I always told people, treat a conference room like Carnegie Hall, so you talk with the same tenacity and passion regardless of how many people are listening to you, because it may only be two people in the room, but maybe those two people have 20 people in their network, and those 20 people in their network have 20 other networks. And so you just never know, so you just have to keep on going and keep on talking, and keep on raising your voice.
14:14 JB: Does it get frustrating? Yes. It gets very frustrating, because when I first started the conversation, nobody was talking about homeless women veterans, so nobody believed me. It wasn't in the news, it wasn't on the Hill, nobody cared and so since... 'Cause, you know, for some people, the media is the gospel. And so... We're not even going to go into how that's affecting everyday life right now. But for people who have not heard it publicly, it's not an issue, and so I had to tap into the media and other public forums so people would start to believe that it was an actual issue.
14:54 KW: And how did you learn how to do that?
14:57 JB: I definitely have to pride that, and say that being a leader within the military pretty much gave me all the tools that I needed. There were some times, they say, "If you ask a question and you don't know, tell them you'll go find out," so there was a lot of research that needed to be done, I needed to figure out how you become a 501c3 and get people to give you money legally, and make sure your books and things are in order, so, that's when you have to reach out to people that have expertise in other areas. So this is... It was definitely not a sole effort, I had to find other people who were smart about non-profit things, who were smart about bookkeeping, who were smart about audits and fundraising, and things like that. But again, I found all those people from going to these groups and talking to them, and someone will come up and say, "Hey, I can help you with this," or, "Hey, I can help you with this." And that's the greatest thing, because those things cost you nothing.
15:49 JB: A lot of us, we get so caught up with non-profits that it's like, "I need to have this person, in turn I need to pay them," and you don't. The thing about the military, they teach you to do so much with so little, and so that kind of helped me to be able to keep our overhead low, and to understand that not everything needs to be organic to your company. You just need to be able to have access to it, and find people who, may not can donate money, but they can donate time and expertise, so it was just basically... You know, again, building a little platoon of people that had expertise and passion for what you had. They may cannot speak on what I directly experienced, but I can. But however, they can help me amplify my message.
16:38 KW: Yeah. So how do you feel about your son being in the military?
16:43 JB: Brandon's in the Air Force, he's not in the military. No! [laughter] Me and my husband always joke. But I'm honored that he's serving, and especially for me, for being a single mother, initially, with him. It's just, because I watch a lot of court TV, you know, types of other, like, drama, reality shows, and when you see so many black men, young black males that are getting into trouble and they have the public defenders, and they always want to allude to the fact that, "John is in trouble because he didn't have a father around, and blah, blah, blah," and I'm like, "You know, but he still had a mother."
17:26 KW: Yep.
17:27 JB: You know, I didn't raise my son as a single mother, I raised my son as his parent. And I think if we focus on the tools and resources that we do have, as opposed to what we don't have, then we can change that mindset. But when we say things like that, we give children an excuse not to succeed, because now we've subliminally imparted this message in them that they can't succeed because they're missing something. So when my son got to be an adult, I asked him. I said, "Well, did you... " 'Cause my husband came around when he was 14 so he helped me raise him during those punch-you-in-the-face years, because teen boys are coming into their own.
18:06 KW: I'm not looking forward to those days, yeah.
18:10 JB: But I asked him, "When you were younger, did you miss not having your father around?" And he said the most profound thing to me, he said, "How can you miss something that you never had?" 'Cause I could still play catch with him, I could still go to his sporting events and support him. I could help him do... Help him with his homework. Not his math homework, though, I'm not owning that, and I was so glad that kid was smart in math. [chuckle] It took me three semesters to get out of college algebra but, damn it, I made it.
18:38 JB: But I think, again, that we focus on... I only need to teach him how to be a man, and teach him how to be a respectful and responsible person. And so, when he decided that he wanted to serve his country, let me know that he looked up to me and he respected what I did, not only as a parent but as a soldier, and he wanted... You want your kids to grow up and wanna be like you. You do. You don't want your kid to grow up and despise you.
19:06 KW: I know.
19:07 JB: So, the fact that he could be proud, as me, as his parent, as his mother, and, like, "I wanna be like her," it just let me know that I made the right decisions with him, and I didn't cut him any slack because, "Oh, you're not doing your homework because your dad's not around." Or, "You're not doing this." I was like, "No. You're gonna do your homework because you're supposed to do your homework, and you need your education," so I never gave him... I never allowed him excuses. And I think, sometimes, when parents feel like they can't give their children something, or they feel like something's missing, they allow them excuses, there's no privacy. I have a Southern grandma, and if you went to her house and you wanted to close the door, she'd take it off the hinges.
19:44 JB: And I also think that sometimes single parents, they think that, "Well, I need to be my kid's friend, so we'll get along better." And you're like, "Listen to me. No. I'm not Brandon's friend. I'm his parent. And that doesn't mean you have to be rude or overly hard on your kid, but you have to set clear boundaries." Like I said, I was just glad that he decided to serve his country, but again, he's a good kid and I just couldn't ask for a better kid.
20:12 KW: Aww. I love hearing... I love hearing you talk about him.
20:14 JB: The six-year-old I could, but not the 20-year-old. He's good. He's good but...
20:18 KW: But to your point, I think as parents, as professionals, many things in our lives, we tend to project our insecurities in ways that can be self-damaging, right? So you may be insecure that you are a single parent or you're bad at math or whatever it may be, and you tend to then maybe make excuses or... It sounds like you didn't. You're very strong. You're like, "Okay, I'm not gonna say I'm a single parent as an excuse. That's not an excuse. This is my son, and I'm gonna make him the best man he can be."
20:53 JB: Right. If he did bad... If his grades started to slip, he would immediately get pulled out of sports. He didn't get extra Christmas and birthday gifts, anything he asked for, because I'm trying to overcompensate for something, or whatever. I think that he appreciated that, 'cause when he got things he learned to, like, "You know what? Well, if I do good then I'll get rewarded." And not just, "I'm gonna get things because I asked for them."
21:18 KW: So you don't just have one company, you have two companies, correct?
21:24 JB: Yes. Let me think about that. Yes.
21:28 KW: So tell me a little bit about your other, modeling and talent agency?
21:32 JB: Yes. We, as veterans, it's widely known that we also have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I was thinking of something that I wanted to do, but I wanted it to be something that was unique. So I was thinking about, "Okay, what can I do that's unique, that can also not only be an employment resource." But then, I thought about... Especially from a woman side, beauty is not something you typically associate with a woman who serves, because we have to strip away so much stuff in order to blend in, so makeup? It's bad. Lipstick? It's bad. Earrings are bad. Well, Air Force wears earrings but, you know. In certain uniforms you can't wear earrings, and jewelry, and things like that.
22:16 KW: Your hair's short or pulled back and...
22:18 JB: Right. Which is why I have none. It's just easier to not have to deal with it. But I was like, "You know, we're very beautiful people." There's also a lot of fit people that are in the military, so I was like, "You know what? I wonder why no one has ever started an all-veteran talent and modeling agency?" And I was like, "You know what? Maybe that's supposed to be my thing." And so I decided put together Prowess, which I have two other partners who are also women veterans and friends of mine. And so, we started it last year and we've really been picking up momentum. We're hoping that we'll start to be able to connect with some brands soon. 'Cause a lot of military people were interested, but they had no experience. So it's like putting them through basic training again. You're going from teaching them how to march, to teaching them how to walk on a runway and to pose. But I'm like, "Okay. Well now you have to do something different. Now, show me happy. Show me your sexy face. Show me your pouty face. Show me your surprised face." And so, you have to send them through another boot camp.
23:23 KW: So how do you do it all? Mom of two kids, you've got two businesses. I know you're a keynote speaker, you're speaking at an Ellevate event this evening. Come on, give me tips, I need tips.
23:35 JB: Well, people like... I always hear that question. "What's your work-life balance?" It's a very sexy word that doesn't exist. I don't believe in work-life balance because, if you look at it, your life, in essence, is, we'll just say a pie. And so, it's like a work-life balance is you waking up and deciding "Okay. Well, today I'm 100% of a person. Am I gonna be 20% of a mom today, then 50% of a soldier, then 10% of a wife, maybe he's only gonna get 5% today 'cause he drank the last wine or something, I don't know." But it's like, you cannot separate yourself as a person because you're one whole person. And so what I found works for me is, while I am dedicating my time to Final Salute, I have ensured that my... The other aspects of my life are in order so I can be 100% of a non-profit leader.
24:24 JB: When I have military drill this weekend, I'm gonna be 100% of a soldier, because I know my mother-in-law is gonna be watching my kid and my husband's gonna be off doing husband stuff. When I'm with my models, I do the same thing. So the work-life balance is not trying to spread yourself too thin. Where you are in the moment, that's where you need to be, and you do that by, when you have the time with your kids, put your phones away. Stop trying to, and I'm sometimes guilty of this with my kid, "Let me answer this last email." The emails are never gonna stop, the text messages aren't gonna stop, so you just have to ignore them. Go somewhere where you can't get a signal or leave the house so you can go spend quality time with your kid and your family. But if you are trying to juggle too many things, you're neglecting something.
25:11 KW: Yup.
25:12 JB: So, in that aspect I say, "There is no balance." So, wherever you are at that particular time, being 100% in that moment, because if you're distracted, then you're missing something, and if you're missing something, as a soldier, sometime, that might cost somebody their life. If you're not paying too much attention to your spouse, it might cost your marriage. If you're not paying too much attention with your kids, then somebody else will. Give your 100% time and attention to what you're doing at that particular time. That's my work-life balance.
25:41 KW: That is fantastic. Thank you.
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