After getting the news on Monday afternoon, it set in and I began to look for words to express how I remember Jennifer Jaff. It took a little time since it’s been a hard few days knowing that she is gone, that a call won’t be returned, an email won’t be received and a meeting can’t be scheduled. After my friend Tiffany wrote me to see how I was doing, I finally found some words to describe my loss to her.
Jennifer Jaff was one of the most amazing people I had the privilege of knowing. She was a person whose life was defined by one word, “help”. Everyday Jenn woke up with a goal to help others. As the founder and executive director of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illnesses, she supported countless people by assisting them to better understand complicated insurance reform laws, filing appeals with insurance companies for uncovered claims and even taking those same insurance companies to court. Jenn battled for people who did not have the power, knowledge or ability to fight these giant corporations themselves and successfully instilled hope when all hope was lost.
Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illnesses gave out free legal advice and assistance to those that did not have the resources or ability to hire lawyers to fight for them. Jennifer took her knowledge and legal experience and dedicated her life to assisting others by forming her nonprofit, Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illnesses.
I was introduced to Jennifer by my friend Sari about 4 years ago, when I was sick and starting to toy with the idea of starting my own nonprofit. Sari thought that Jenn and I would get along great as we had so many things in common. We both wanted to dedicate our lives to helping others by being advocates for those that would not or could not speak out. However, it was not just our shared passion and work in the not-for-profit world that we had in common, it was our shared paths as patients, sufferers of Crohn’s disease, and experiences and decisions to have ostomies that brought us together.
The first opportunity I had to meet Jenn was at a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America event in New York City were she was speaking at a seminar on health care reform and how it affected patients who had chronic diseases. After her speech she was on a Q&A panel. The speech she made and questions she answered were incredibly informative for everyone who attended. I knew immediately that this was someone I admired and aspired to be like. We had already spoken a few times via email and phone, but I was glowing when she stopped the Q&A and asked me to come up in front of all attendees and discuss what I was doing. It was not part of the event and she did not tell me she was going to do this. Being introduced by someone as incredible as Jenn and hearing her tell me how proud of me she was and that I was an up-and-comer to the Inflammatory Bowel Disease nonprofit community that everyone needed to know about, left me speechless. It was the first time I stood in front of a large amount of people and spoke about the Crohn’s Adventures Foundation. I was filled with excitement, but not because I was able to speak about my cause, but rather that Jennifer Jaff was proud of what I was doing and called me an up-and-comer.
After that day Jennifer and I grew closer. We emailed frequently, talked when we could, and no matter how busy she was, she took the time to help me with my cause. Jenn pointed me in the right direction when I was lost, gave me information that I needed when I did not know something, told me tips for becoming successful in the nonprofit world and most importantly lifted me up when times were hard.
Starting a nonprofit is not easy work, but having Jennifer by my side made getting the Intense Intestines Foundation started so much smoother. Jenn had already walked the path that I was and am still learning to walk. Having Jenn as a friend by my side to give me words of encouragement was amazing. This past March was the last time I saw Jenn in person. We spoke in her new offices for a few hours and it was a joy as always. Seeing her work was a pleasure, but it was also incredibly inspiring. During my visit, we talked about so many topics regarding my foundation and also discussed her plans to move her nonprofit ahead. I was even able to assist her with a few things that day, which made me feel great since I was able to give back to someone who had helped me so much.
I’ll remember that day forever. At one point during our visit Jennifer was extremely perceptive and saw that I was overwhelmed with all the information she was giving me and said, “Brian, you’re way ahead of me at the two year point in your foundation and I’m so proud of what you’re doing. Keep it up.” I melted. Hearing those words from someone who I had grown so close to, was extremely powerful for me. I remembering leaving her office that day with a sense that things were going to be okay and the Intense Intestines Foundation would make it.
After that visit, we emailed on a regular basis for a while, but as things got moving with my organization, we did not email as much. I look back on this now and am saddened that I had not been in contact as much with her a I would have liked to be. I like to think that this is because she taught me so much and I did not need to email her for her assistance as frequently as I had in the past. Jenn was my mentor and I will miss her dearly. Jenn always knew when to step back and let me grow. I attest my professional growth and development to Jenn. It was Jenn who helped me get to where I am today and helped me to learn how to run a nonprofit and make the right decisions to move it forward on my own.
Remembering Jennifer these last few days has been tough for me, since like I said we had so much in common and parallels in our lives. I’ll always miss Jenn and there will be times that knowing she isn’t there will be tough. I admired her in every way, aspire to be like her, and hope to follow in her footsteps in the nonprofit world to lead and inspire people the way she did. Most of all I will miss her as a friend and someone that I could always talk to.
In the coming days and weeks I will be figuring out how we at the Intense Intestines Foundation will be honoring and celebrating Jennifer’s life.
Rest In Peace Jennifer Jaff.
Never Stay Quiet