Jeanne Russell (right) looks on as Molly Cox addresses the crowd gathered for the SA2020 Progress Report in 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Jeanne Russell (right) looks on as Molly Cox addresses the crowd gathered for SA2020's 2014 Progress Report. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

I have quit or changed jobs on a tilting-at-windmills quest for life-work-family balance so many times it is embarrassing to count. I remember the first time vividly, because it came as such a shock. I worked 70-hour weeks right up to the birth of my first child, never anticipating how she would rock my world. Six months later, the idea of supervising 20-plus reporters on very little sleep while experiencing an unexpected pull toward home sent me begging for a transfer from a city editor to a reporter – a job that came with only one very small person to manage. Since then, I’ve switched from five days to four to three to five and back to four, which was really five.

There was that memorable moment when I tried to quit my job on New Year’s Eve at the Mayor’s office. Yes, that happened.

Those who know me well can attest to how I’ve maintained a Zen-like calm through all of it. I’ve juggled activities like raising two well-behaved children while participating in a meaningful way at soccer practices and PTA meetings, hand-sewing Halloween costumes, and logging long hours at work, always showing up perfectly dressed and without a hair out of place. Or, wait – maybe, in fact, that never happened.

I hold no delusions that shifting gears once again will result in idyllic, relaxing family dinner hours or neatly folded piles of laundry. That, my friends, is what people in the desert call a shimmering image that looks like water on the horizon – a mirage. But, as my husband, Mike Villarreal, gears up to run for mayor, I know we’ll need to cherish whatever moments of peace we can grab as a family. After six years working for two mayors, I know better than most what lies ahead.

Jeanne Russell and Mike Villarreal pose for a photo with their two children. Photo by Jerstad Photographics.
Jeanne Russell and Mike Villarreal pose for a photo with their two children. Photo courtesy Jerstad Photographics.

That experience tells me I can’t work full-time at a startup, no matter how much fun I’ve had since I made the decision to come to SA2020 on April Fools’ Day of 2013. I’m excited that SA2020 has asked me to continue to lead on some key projects even as I transition – slowly – into working as a consultant. It hardly feels like goodbye.

I believe in this organization. We have built a great team of fun, visionary, energetic, and determined people. But it’s more than just our team. What brings their work to life is the community vision that thousands of people got together to create in 2010. Over the past year and a half, we’ve built and strengthened some amazing partnerships in support of our North Star – the 60 targets the community said it wanted to achieve by the year 2020. We’ve connected people to volunteer opportunities and coalitions working to improve our city in specific ways: reducing teen pregnancy and registering qualified individuals for health care, to name a couple. We’ve built a one-of-its-kind database to track our progress, and hopefully, to help our community better understand a bit more about what is working and what isn’t. As someone who’s just slightly crazy about data, that kind of project makes my heart sing. And we have an amazing community-minded data partner in CI:NOW.

As SA2020 goes into 2015 – halfway toward the big 2020 year – it is ready to become a real force for good in our community. The new database (a fancy name for an integrated management system) is available to help our partners break down data points by geography, demography, and more. We have active partners ranging from city and county government, to industry, nonprofits, and multi-sector coalitions. There is a broad community commitment to work collaboratively toward better education outcomes, healthier lifestyles, and a stronger workforce.

I will continue as a consultant, so the projects I’ve been leading and care deeply about may not even notice my departure. I’m super-excited about our Talent Pipeline Task Force, which is examining the best way to get labor market information to our education system and how to use that intelligence to strengthen our workforce. I’ll stay with that group until its recommendations are completed in April 2015 and beyond if necessary.

I also will keep a hand in the Eastside Integration Committee, which, among other things, hopes to understand what is making a difference in Eastpoint so that we can replicate that intensive investment in a smart way in other neighborhoods that need it.

SA2020 lives in me, just like it lives in all of you. I know we’ll still be seeing each other. And if you spot me on the soccer field, or in the grocery store, or at the neighborhood gathering, I’ll be that relaxed mom whose perfectly behaved children are engaging her in funny but appropriate banter. It could happen. But if you happen to see some woman with a baseball cap furtively pulled over wet hair frantically trying to get her kids to school on time…

*Featured/top image: Jeanne Russell (right) looks on as Molly Cox addresses the crowd gathered for SA2020’s 2014 Progress Report. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

This story was originally published on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.

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Jeanne Russell

Jeanne Russell is the owner and co-founder of Mission Street Consulting, LLC. In that capacity, she helped design and launch Upgrade, and now sits on its advisory board. Prior to forming Mission Street...