JA Dallas Volunteer Spotlight: Irum Jones

Irum Jones

About Irum Jones:

She is a woman that inspires us to live in our Ikigai; a Japanese mindfulness practice that combines the joy from doing everything with a sense of purpose, meaning & well-being by sharing her time, talents & resources to make impactful contributions in all areas of her life. She's a woman that wears many hats, like Author, Advocate, Activist, Educator, Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Philanthropist, Professional and Speaker. She manages her family's flagship business as the Chief Operating Officer for Electrician On Call, in addition to supporting small businesses throughout the nation as the Chief Social Impact Officer for On Call Service Pros by connecting local businesses to local non-profits to improve local communities. Her heart work consists of serving as a Board & Advisory Member for dozens of DFW area non-profits focusing on family values, workforce skills and historic preservation. She is also a proud member & longtime supporter of Collin County NAACP, the Junior League of Collin County and Dallas Professional Women. Her focus on combatting accessibility issues helps community-based organizations like Douglass Visions Committee and The Global Professional Women Alliance serve larger audiences. As an advocate for higher learning, she serves as a program advisor for trade schools, school districts, non-profits and work-release programs.

The Power of Volunteerism, Aspire To Be A Volunteer with Impact

Q: As a businesswoman in the working world, why do you think it is so important to empower students with financial literacy education and entrepreneurship?

A: Well, that is our currency, right? Happiness is a currency as well. Currency can take you very far if you have the right mindset, but it is a resource. For us to do great things or improve our lives while also bringing it back to our community to improve the lives of others, we must know how to use our resources wisely. If we can teach that about currency, then we need to practice those disciplines starting with money. After that, we can teach that about other resources as well. Financial Literacy to me is not only about future planning or setting yourself up so that you are not living paycheck to paycheck. It is also about understanding investments and having a thought process to support your basic needs versus what you want. I feel like financial literacy is the cornerstone for getting people out of a cycle. It could be a negative cycle like domestic violence, and it can help prevent them from getting into a cycle in the first place. Sometimes, it is a ticket out of circumstances like that.

Q: What would you tell a student that has already been discouraged Dan is really having a hard a hard time you know shifting their mindset what would you say to them or how would you get them too I mean is it just a decision for them to like you know switch it over or what would you say to them that somebody that's already been beaten down and has been discouraged? 

A: That happens. It all depends on that unique situation we do not know the gaps of what this child or this person has gone through, and we cannot minimize any of that. We must make sure that they were able to let it out and create those safe environments even if it is just mentally safe or a judgment free zone. Confidentially create that environment where they can cry it out, yell it out, and get those emotions out. They need to go through the emotional process, and when they let something out, it frees you up to let something in. If a child is so clouded up living in the past or the current survival situations, we as volunteers must make sure they are able to let some of that cloudiness come out before we can bring something positive in for them! It is creating encouraging environments, and it is always speaking into the light! It is giving them small nuggets of hope. It is showing them that there is daily encouragement and these healthy habits. I have been there, and when you are in survival mode all you are doing is running from something or running to prevent something from happening. There is no time to stop and smell the roses. For adults, we finally get a chance to be there with these kids. We get to be a tour guide in life and hold their hand in the process. We get to encourage them, and they may not come from a situation that does that for them. Once they start building that trust, they will be able to trust you. Kids are smart and intuitive. You will see that they will start letting go and start believing again. They will see there is good in the world. There are kids out there who think … 

As capable functioning adults, as informal or formal mentors, it is important to love and be protective of these students. We must be careful with the conversations we have with them too. People forget that some of these children have never been the center of the universe for anyone. They must realize and make them understand that they are the center of their own universe. They are worth it! From there, you will see breakthroughs happen. You will be able to see talents and abilities. You can seriously prevent people from going to jail, you can prevent people from so many different things. Sometimes their talents have been pushed down so much that they do not even know what they are good at. Volunteers should understand that these sensitive issues could come up and you will see impact – the last thing you say. You have power as a volunteer. 

Q: Can you share your personal career journey? What challenges have you had to overcome? What have you learned?

A: My story goes deep. Personally speaking, people can throw a bunch of labels on me like a 1st generation American, I immigrated over to this country, in a large family with a cultural clash – all those different challenges growing up. Unfortunately, when I was in my teenage years throughout high school, I was in foster care. It was a very hard situation to be in. With that, I promised myself that if I were ever to come out of the situation -- and for a lot of girls in the foster care system (just not being safe) we do not get to pick and choose where we are going -- I was in foster care in New York City - a lot of survival pieces that I had to experience on my own as a child. Through those hard moments, I promised myself that if I were to ever come out of this situation or the cycle that I was in that I would use my time and my resources very wisely to get ahead of the cycle. To make the doorway very narrow or even close that door on a situation so girls or any child would not have to go through what I did. I promised myself, and I have carried that torch. 

The moment I turned into an adult even though I had a job at the age of 18. I was able to pay all the bills. My actions were that I was going to school full-time, and I had two to three jobs just so that I could make sure I was in a safe place. I saved up every single penny, and I went to college. When I left, I set myself up to where I could give back especially to the areas that I call my heart work. I do not want other kids going through that. When I went through this, I did not understand what my survival rate was until I became an adult. Someone told me that based off my circumstances that I should not have survived. Going through it myself versus the financial education – the issues we try to solve together in partnership with JA.  Yes, I would have taken JA as a student, absolutely. Sometimes I can see certain things that others are not able to see because I was that kid. Therefore, I love working with kids because I can kind of sense some of that experience upfront, and I can find a way to talk to them. It is so important for kids to see that in an adult.  

I remember a woman said to me, “Oh don't worry if your childhood is really bad then that means your adult life will be something really good and you have something to look forward to.” This was something to tell a kid, but it made me look forward to that. It did make a difference. 

All those low moments for kids in the same situation that I once was in, once you lose hope, it becomes a different life, and it is hard to pull yourself out of that type of dark. I do not want a child to go through that at all. I prefer to be on the preventative side rather than once our kids our damaged through the other piece of experience.  

Q: What's some advice that you would give to students or anyone for that matter? 

A: I have this rule, and it is one thing that I love to tell kids. It is called a 300% rule, and you always hear people say I am going to give it my 100%. My take on that is that you need to give 300%, and what that means is having a mindset and the discipline! Those are the two things that every person that I've ever met who was happy and successful and balanced was disciplined, and they had a good mindset. They had a protective mindset as well which meant that they did not let other things clout them up. What the  300% rule says is “for 100% of my time I am going to put 100% of my effort into 100% of what I do 100% of the time.”

I know this sounds a little confusing, but I am going to put 100% of all my effort into 100% of what I do 100% of the time. If you have that mindset, it is a game changer. This means you can step into any entry level position anywhere and rise to the top very quickly. It means you are giving it your ALL. This even applies to college -- even your studying habits. I am going to study to the best of my ability, and your best from last week is going to be your challenge. You will continue to raise that scale on what you can consume and how you can be productive. You can even do this with chores. For example, washing dishes, I am going to be so good at washing these dishes. Then, you become the best version you can be. With this, you become hungry to learn more and do things efficiently and effectively. Plus, you are building proficiency and saving time because you are not having to do them again and again. Your quality of work will improve in this way of life. It will be reflective in your entire life and not just in your work. It bleeds over, and by having that mindset or that formula for success, there is no way you are not going to be happy or shining bright because you are doing so much more than others.

Let me be clear, it is not about competing with others either. It is about competing with yourself! You are so busy with being your 300% that you have no time to come up for air and see what other people are doing. It is a very healthy way of doing things without getting distracted. This tool help students realize the importance of this, and I have seen the change even within a week. It is refreshing to see how people can apply this and how their lives improve. Their eyes will light up, and they are glowing and smiling. I see the transformation, and I believe we should all be doing this. You cannot necessarily learn this from a textbook. You cannot control what type of bosses you are going to have. Some students need to know that their bosses will not be supportive of them. Our kids need to know that they are not the issue. It is about giving people a chance, grace and forgiveness. We all can make terrible mistakes in the past, but we can fix it. There is this concept that there is no such thing as a bad person just a bad situation. It is importance to know what forgiveness is and how we can just move on especially when we do not know the lifestyle situation at home. We do not know the baggage that people are carrying and sometimes that holds people back.

As a volunteer, you can have those conversations. Sometimes, it might not be the right time because the student is in survival mode. 

Q: Reflecting on your involvement with JA Dallas, what makes you proud to be involved with our organization?

A: I really believe in the JA Dallas programming, wholeheartedly. The exposure and learning objectives from the programming really deals with mentorship. It helps kids understand some of the tools they need to acquire or even the skill sets that they need to polish up. JA does this in a very inclusive way! The exposure is not just a one-sided exposure. JA gives them a 360 experience, and it is refreshing to see that!

I have been involved with JA for a year. However, I was familiar with JA because my organization, Electrician On Call, has a wraparound program where we teach kids about trades and get them excited about different hidden careers in construction. JA has a national presence, and with that, we have come across JA volunteers, advocates and supporters. We’ve in a lot of ways been partners with those JA chapters nationally, and I felt like it was a natural fit for us to be involved in Dallas. Sometimes, we get so busy mobilizing programs programs that we forget about getting involved in our local community. This is what led me to knock on JA’s door.

Q: What would you tell other people who are interested in volunteering with JA or even just donating or being a sponsor?  

A: Take the step!  If you have something that you feel like you can offer in terms of sweat equity, do it!  Take a self-reflection. What can you or your industry bring to the table? Is it currently being represented? If not, step in and be that resource. If you have big sources in connection, this is an organization that puts it to great use. You can see the changes happening, and you can understand the difference. JA is so passionate about students, and I love that. JA knows learning, and learning is achieving. Having this environment offers different exposure to these students. When they are a part of JA, they learn how to do so many other things in a protected and safe place. If we were all given that opportunity as volunteers, as people who give resources to JA, if we would have had that in our lives just for a moment – I do not even know the possibilities and what it would be like- that excites me! JA not being accessible to every kid because of the lack of resources, now, that is the sad part. The programming teaches basic needs, survival needs. Every student should know to do this. That is how passionate I feel because Junior Achievement should be in every school.

Q: What would you tell students looking to follow in your footsteps or following in your career ended industry? Even young women? 

A: First, I would say things always get better things. They always improve. There is never a day that you are not productive just changing that mindset and having that positive outlook on everything you do. It is important to show kids that there is a way to react in a healthy mindset. It is a major component of building healthy habits. As women, it is so important to understand your self-worth even if others think you are worthless. It is sad to see so many girls feel like that. It is important to believe in yourself, and that is part of the message that I like to tell students. They miss that they really must be at the center of their own universe. I have always been in a male dominated industry with technical project management and software development. My husband and I have a family business that we started, and it was not just one thing that I was doing. I was in the corporate world for many years as a project manager. You really must walk in and have a mindset that you are going to be challenged every day. This is not an excuse to have a chip on your shoulder or make someone else feel bad or miserable. You might be more passionate and kinder – because that is the language of the land. You must do things in authentic kindness so our reactions will set us up for our path moving forward. In a male dominated industry especially in software development, it is just learning from mentors, and it does not have to be just women, it could be anyone who is your mentor. It could even be someone younger than you. Again, it is a mindset of saying that you will be a life-long learner. That is what I love about JA because you allow people to see that we are all learning, and it is a positive thing. We do not claim to know everything, but we can be open about sharing our experiences. It is important to be confident and adaptable in different work environments too. I came from an environment in New York City to transitioning to a job in Texas. I was the only woman probably out of 50 people. The ratio is very low. 

Once we started the family business which was in the construction industry, you did not see a lot of women in construction, but they are out there. Twenty years ago, technology did not allow us to have communities as an easy way to find each other. Students these days have an advantage because they can find support groups so easily. Now, they are growing up in this environment, and it is our responsibility to tell them effective ways to use these tools that maybe they have not thought about. They have a lot of accessibility, and it is important to help them wrap around all of that so they can use it wisely.