I wasn’t sure at all where to start with Joanna Gammon.
She’s a fellow UNC Charlotte alumnus, and it seems a few of us find our way back here to this page. One look at what Joanna has taken part in – or still works with – and you’ll wonder if it might be easier to ask about stuff she doesn’t do.
This will tell you all you need to know about Joanna Gammon:
Know those 30 Under 30, 40 Under 40 lists of age-specific go-getters? Well, Joanna didn’t just make a list. She topped Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 influencers in 2017. Wherever she treads, impressions are made.
She’s whatever word you think of when you distinguish a leader among leaders.
She’s a former soccer coach, but the coolest thing, if I had to pick one, from her accomplishments would be the foundation of Joanna’s Barefoot 30, a 5K charity race she ran barefoot. #NinerStrong, all day long.
She’s also the youngest person to serve on the UNC Charlotte Foundation Board. The biggest move I’ve made since my days at my alma mater? I found a couple of 49ers shirts at Goodwill and wear them proudly.
Please give Joanna a warm CD welcome.
Eli: When you were little, what did you want to grow up to be?
Joanna: First, I wanted to be an attorney (after my great grandfather). Then, I wanted to be an architect (which I didn’t know until later in life that this is what my dad wanted to be too).
Eli: When did you find out that your dad had architectural aspirations, too?
Joanna: Not until I was an adult and had graduated college. He never said one word to me about it. Isn’t it amazing that we had the same aspirations and that neither one of us ended up pursuing that career?
Eli: Maybe it was genetic! What did you dream of building?
Joanna: I wanted to build residential homes. I imagined buying acres of land with winding roads. Sidewalks that were 3 feet from the road and had a patch of grass in between. Old metal street lamps. Each piece of property would be half an acre. Every home looked different – some one-story, some two-story, some brick, some stone. Putting a roof over a family’s head and creating what would hopefully be a loving environment was the ultimate goal.
Eli: How old were you when you had this vision?
Joanna: Middle school.
Eli:Is this where it all started? This idea that you wanted to help people, in big ways?
Joanna: Wow, I never thought about it like that but yes, I guess so!
Eli: It makes sense. What do you remember about your first efforts to put something together to benefit others?
Joanna: Probably with my own sisters. We used to play “teacher.” I taught them how to read, write, add and subtract before they learned it in school. Still till today, I guide them and mentor them on finances, negotiating, relationships, etc. I want to make sure they are better off than I was at their age.
In elementary school (and really throughout my whole life) I was friends with everyone. When throwing birthday parties, my parents let me invite my entire class over – girls AND boys. I’ve always wanted everyone to feel included and introduce different friends to each other. I still do this today.
Eli: Who is your most influential model for kindness these days?
Joanna: Honestly, my boyfriend Brian Drumwright. He is the kindest, most genuine person with a positive attitude and absolutely best personality of anyone I know. Hence, reason I am with him 🙂 He performs random acts of kindness everyday. He treats everyone the same, no matter their job title or color of their skin. He is the true definition of kind.
Eli: What did the experience of playing high school soccer do for you long-term?
Joanna: Playing high school soccer did a lot of things for me:
- Taught me to be a team player which prepared me for working in teams on the job.
- Taught me work ethics. We had practice everyday, and it was hard. The more you put into it, the better the results. As is the same in life and at work.
- Taught me discipline. There were a lot of rules to follow just like in a job with policies and procedures to follow.
- Taught me to accomplish goals.
- Taught me how to compete and gave me my competitive drive to win/never give up.
- Taught me to dig deeper when things weren’t going right.
- Taught me to respect my coaches and trust their leadership which is important to trust the direction the executive team gives you in an organization.
- Taught me diversity. I didn’t see skin color. What mattered was the jersey on your back – we were all 1 team – and we would do anything for each other.
- Gave me confidence in myself.
Eli: Where in your life today do you see these principles still coming into play?
Joanna: Everywhere! Every single day. In both my personal and professional worlds.
Eli: You were busy in college at UNC Charlotte, my alma mater. How important was it to you to not just attend, but make an impact, on the school?
Joanna: The crazy thing is, I was not very involved with my alma mater while attending there. For one, I was a transfer student from my local community college. I only attended my junior and senior year at UNC Charlotte. I also never lived on campus. The only three things I participated in were:
1. Played on a few intramural soccer teams through the university
2. Helped create the Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA) with a group of friends (which I’m told still exists on campus today)
3. Attended ‘5 Ventures’ each year, a business competition
As funny as it sounds, my college involvement really did not begin until 4 or 5 years after I graduated. I got re-engaged and re-plugged back in and have been super involved ever since. I served six years on the Alumni Board of Directors (holding various Chair positions) and I’m in my third year of a nine-year commitment on the Foundation Board (I am the youngest person in University history to ever sit on this board). It is VERY important for me to give back to the place that gave me so much; that I took for granted when attending yet learned the appreciation of my foundation and college education after a few years into my career.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for UNC Charlotte and my college degree. So making an impact at the school that made such an impact in my life is extremely important to me. First, give of your time. Then of your talents. And lastly, give your treasure. I’ve done all three.
Eli: It’s not easy to pick something out of your life to ask more about, because there’s so much! So much recognition, so many certifications. I’m curious about the Appreciating Differences certification from Compass USA. What can you tell us about what you learned in that?
Joanna: Appreciating Differences is an online training program designed to deliver key messages and lessons in support of embracing diversity and inclusion principles in an interactive format.The course was 60 minutes long. Appreciating Differences takes a pressure-free approach to exploring diversity, affording users a private and personalized way to understand their own biases, discover the different ways that diversity impacts business, and experience realistic scenarios that challenge them to take on the role of a Diversity Change Agent.
Today’s definition of diversity is broad and encompasses many aspects of difference beyond age, race and gender. Appreciating differences helps users acknowledge how differences get in the way, and how to create respectful work environments.
• Understand the business case for diversity and inclusion
• Explore how stereotypes, assumptions and preferences affect others
• Develop skills that build an inclusive, high-performing workplace
Eli: You never stop learning, do you?
Joanna: No sir. I learn something new everyday. You can learn from someone older than you, younger than you, in your industry, outside of your industry, that looks like you, looks nothing like you. But you must be willing to listen.
Eli: Charlotte Business Journal recognized you as one of Charlotte’s 40 under 40 – community members having an impact on the area. Highlights of your nomination include:
- Your motto is: God first, family second, create opportunity, connect people to opportunities
- After two months with Compass Group, you were asked to serve on Canteen’s Diversity & Inclusion Action Council.
- You served four years on the Habitat Charlotte Board of Directors as the youngest board member in Habitat history
- You ran the Joanna’s Barefoot 30, a 5K race to raise money in honor of your 30th birthday for Samaritan’s Feet. You had 50 volunteers, 40 new pairs of shoes were donated, and raised $10,000.
- You won the Conplecto Award from the United Way.
- You threw birthday parties for children with serious emotional and behavioral problems at Alexander Youth Network.
- You served lunch to the ladies of Elizabeth Caldwell House, a Salvation Army satellite program of the Salvation Army that gives shelter to women.
- You’re an adrenaline junky, world traveler, Jesus loving, people helping, passionate networker, competitive athlete who loves connecting others to opportunity.
Pick just one of those and tell us the lasting impression of it.
Joanna: Joanna’s Barefoot 30 will always leave a lasting impression in my heart. I wanted to do something BIG and BOLD, something different for my 30th birthday. I wanted to bring family and friends together, have some sort of athletic component to it, and make sure we were helping others, specifically children. It takes a looooong time to plan a 5K. More than I was expecting. It also takes a lot of community partners, money, and donations to get a 5K up and going. You have to get permits from the city and parks.
You need police officers to block each intersection. You need fruit and water supplied at the finish line. T-shirts made. A logo designed and race name. A website built for registration. Lots of volunteers. And so much more. I also ran the race barefoot. I wanted to put myself in the “bare feet” of someone else who did not have shoes. The 35 minutes worth of pain one day was worth it. Many children around the world walk barefoot their entire lives or die because of infections to the foot.
For me, my 30th birthday wasn’t just about one day or one night out on the town. It was about helping others and leaving a legacy.
The Lord said if I followed Him, He would walk with me always. Not only do my hands and heart do the work of The Lord, but so do my feet. I want to partner with Samaritan’s Feet because I want to do more than walk the walk; I want to run that walk. These feet of mine and those who join in my cause will carry the inspiration of The Lord and deliver His love and message to kids in need everywhere. Let our feet do the talking and deliver that message to His children.” Joanna Gammon (age 30)
Eli: That’s incredible. I can’t even imagine what ideas are on your horizon that you haven’t even approached yet. What advice do you have for girls and young women for living such a meaningful life?
Joanna: My advice for girls and young women: Use your God-given talents. Find your purpose in life. And live it every day.