GIFTED nurses often have fascinating stories to tell, and we’re committed to sharing the experiences of the nurses we serve. Each month, we interview a GIFTED RN so we can share their story in our GIFTED Spotlight series.
Today, our spotlight shines on Jennifer Coleman, a first-time GIFTED travel nurse specializing in Case Management in Gallup, New Mexico. Recently, we discovered that Jennifer has been doing some incredible work beyond the bedside, in addition to her great work in the hospital.
We had to take the opportunity to share her compassionate, kind spirit and giving heart with the world. Read on to hear her story!
Jennifer was born in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, a small town in the Southeastern corner of the state. She is the youngest of three children, and describes her family as a tight-knit group.
“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but we always did family things,” Jennifer said. “My dad worked days as a truck driver, and my mom worked nights in a factory. My dad took care of us at night, bathed us and fed us, and once he put us to bed he would bring my mom lunch almost every day.”
During her childhood, Jennifer took a family vacation that would make a big impact on her worldview. Jennifer’s uncle was a traveling minister that provided assistance to the less fortunate, particularly Native Americans in the American Southwest.
“He bought himself a 70s-model school bus and converted it into a motorhome – kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, the works,” said Jennifer. “He started coming out West, starting with the Navajos in Monument Valley, Utah, and then branching out to the Zunis, Apaches, and the Hopi.”
When Jennifer was in 8th grade, she and her sister went with her uncle on a mission trip to New Mexico, living on a Native American reservation for 2 weeks. Even though she came from modest means, this experience made Jennifer realize how fortunate she was. Her uncle ministered to the locals and also gave them food and clothing.
“They had nothing – no electricity, no running water, no plumbing – but they were the most giving people,” she said. “Every night before church, the elders would wait outside the bus so they could give us gifts as a token of their appreciation. That always stuck with me.”
Jennifer’s Path as a Caretaker
Jennifer’s path to nursing wasn’t direct. She had built a life and family before deciding to become an RN.
“I was a late bloomer with my career,” Jennifer said. “I got married, had kids, and then went to college at night.”
In addition, Jennifer was inspired by a family tragedy to pursue a major in forensic pathology and a minor in criminal justice.
“One of my dear aunts was murdered while she was at work one day,” said Jennifer. “They didn’t know who did it, and I thought, ‘What can I do to help my family?’”
Before she finished her degree, her husband was transferred to Hawaii, which interrupted her education. Jennifer changed her course; she reached out to a nursing school in her hometown of Poplar Bluff, MO and began taking her prerequisite courses to become an RN. Eventually, after lots of hard work and difficult circumstances, she was accepted to nursing school and moved back to Missouri to finish her nursing education.
Jennifer began her nursing career in a hospital setting and then moved to Hospice Care. She said she “fell in love” with the specialty.
“Your patients become like family,” she said. “And you’re really there more for the family than the patients, to give them peace of mind. They know that if they need to call someone at 3 in the morning, they can call you.”
Raising her children was difficult while working the long hours of hospice care, so Jennifer shifted to case management, where she truly found her calling.
A Heart of Gold
Jennifer has been an RN for nearly twelve years. Last year, she heard about GIFTED Healthcare from a fellow nurse. Hungry for a change of pace, and inspired by her childhood experiences in the Southwest, Jennifer decided to take the leap and go on her first travel nursing assignment in Gallup, New Mexico.
Gallup, New Mexico sits between two large reservations – the Navajo Nation and the Zuni lie on opposite sides of the city. These are the same groups that Jennifer visited on missionary trips during her childhood.
When she arrived, Jennifer noticed that many of the issues she had observed as a child persisted. She also noticed a lack of resources within Gallup for those struggling with homelessness, mental health problems, and drug addiction. After a few weeks, Jennifer decided she had to do whatever she could to help.
Jennifer started by occasionally buying meals for locals in need, but soon felt like she wasn’t doing enough. With the Thanksgiving holidays fast approaching, Jennifer came up with a plan.
“I decided that on Thanksgiving Day I would get up early, buy a turkey and a ham, make all the fixings and desserts, and drive around the streets of Gallup and hand out meals,” she said. “I drove all over and ended up handing out 25 meals and bottles of water.”
Jennifer said that her Thanksgiving project was a great success. But she also realized that many of the people she helped were not prepared for the cold winter ahead.
Over the next few weeks, Jennifer prepared a similar project for the Christmas holidays, making winter gift bags stocked with socks, emergency warming blankets, rinse-free washcloths, snacks, toothbrushes, mittens, and other practical items. Just like she did on Thanksgiving, she drove around and handed them out before her trip home to see family.
In each gift bag, Jennifer included a Christmas card. “I introduced myself and wrote that no matter what they’re going through, they should know that someone cares about them and loves them, and so does God,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer’s good deeds come from a place of true compassion. And although these acts of kindness were committed outside of the hospital, it is clear that they originate from the heart of a caretaker.
“I didn’t do it because I wanted recognition, I did it because that’s what I felt led to do,” said Jennifer. “I grew up in a Christian home, and I was raised to treat others how you would want to be treated and to look at everybody the same.”
“God made us all in his likeness,” she continued. “And if everyone looked and thought the same, what a boring world it would be. I just felt a calling to give.”
When we spoke to her, Jennifer was also preparing another collection of gift bags for the Easter holiday.
GIFTED Supports Jennifer’s Mission of Compassion
We are extremely proud that Jennifer Coleman is a GIFTED nurse. She said that she is looking forward to taking more assignments with GIFTED, and appreciates that GIFTED supports her mission.
We look forward to working with Jennifer in the future and are honored to share her acts of kindness and compassion with the world.
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