Know yourself. The legacy you leave is often about something you lost that is very valuable to you. I lost my daughter Abbie. I have to keep my why in the forefront of my mind and keep going. I know this is a marathon and not a 50-yard sprint. It’s important to know what you can do and what you can’t, and not to overload yourself financially, spiritually, emotionally or physically.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jimmy DeLoach Jr.
Jimmy DeLoach Jr. has received both peace and pain from the choices he’s made during his 63 years of life. Jimmy has found love again with his wife, Maria, whom he married in 2020. He considers his greatest accomplishment having guided and loved his two daughters, Abbie and Annie, into adulthood. Annie, 26, is a physician assistant. Abbie was killed in a tragic traffic accident at age 21. Jimmy is the founder and CEO of the Abbie DeLoach Foundation, and co-owner of Tidewater Landscape Management.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Two life experiences most shaped who I am. On April 22, 2015, an accident occurred at 5:45 a.m. on Interstate 16 in Bryan County, Georgia. The wreckage involved a semi truck going 70 mph that plowed into the back of two cars that were stopped because of an accident ahead on the expressway. The truck driver was looking at videos and did not apply the brakes at all before impact.
In these two cars were seven student nurses from Georgia Southern University. It was their last day of clinical rotations. Five of the future nurses died, one of them was my Abbie, age 21.
The other impactful experience occurred on Aug. 2, 1992, at Wilmington Island Baptist Church. I was sitting in the second row and Pastor Larry Wilson was speaking on the message you can run, but you can’t hide. It was about Jonah and the whale — how Jonah was running from what God wanted him to do with his life. That is where I became all-in with the faith that held me together through a divorce after 20-plus years of marriage and the death of my baby, Abbie, both of which happened many years later.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
I’ll start with humility. I’ve found that time and the mistakes I’ve made as a dad, husband, friend and business owner have revealed how fragile my decisions are and the effect they have on those in my little circle of life. I believe it’s that way for all of us.
An event at work showed me the power of humility. I had just returned from lunch with the crew from my and my brother’s landscaping company. As we were gearing up to continue mowing, I realized that one of our crew guys hadn’t joined us for lunch and didn’t have anything to eat. It was almost 100 degrees, with crazy humidity, and this guy was busting his butt for us to make our business successful. He didn’t make one complaint about not having food.
From that day forward, I was focused on “we” rather than “me” in our business. It became about the team and what we could do together, rather than any one individual. My mind had been so focused on the busyness involved in getting the next big deal to keep the business going and profits growing that I hadn’t truly appreciated that work wasn’t just about “me” and making a larger income for myself. Rather, it was to do purposeful work that could be a blessing for all our workers. Being able to share a good life as a team was more worthwhile.
Honesty is also important to me. In fact, it’s the cornerstone that must be present in whatever relationships we have in life — with family, friends, business associates or social acquaintances. People must know that your word is as solid as cement. Regardless of whether someone likes me personally or in business, they will know that I have been honest because that is a key value of mine.
I think back to the time I was 6 years old. Mama looked me dead in the eyes and asked, “Did you take a quarter out of the lunch money to go and buy something else?” I answered yes, and she tore my butt up with a spanking. I got over the spanking a few hours later, but I never got over why you must always tell the truth, even when it’s painful. Mama is always watching!
And I can’t forget heart. Having empathy and understanding the desires, goals and values of others has been instrumental for me.
When you’re in your 20s and 30s, your focus tends to be about your needs. When you’re in your 40s and 50s, it’s about the family’s needs. When you’re in your 60s, you realize how much time and money you wasted on what you thought you needed to be successful and happy.
My journey of realizing what’s most important in this lifetime began in 1994, the year Abbie was born. And it’s continued since 1996, the year my daughter Annie was born. Life has brought me a lot of lessons about how to open my heart and love people, but it all started when I was blessed to be their dad.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
People will gravitate with their resources to an organization or a philanthropy that aligns with their goals and has had a proven impact in that area. The resources we all have are limited; we only have so much disposable income, 24 hours in a day and the talents each of us possesses. So we want to use them wisely, and support the causes that matter to us.
I waited five years before asking any individual or organization to provide resources that helped expand the Abbie DeLoach Foundation (ADF) so we could have something to point to and say, This is what we have accomplished, and we want you to be part of this legacy. We wanted to have the ability to touch people and change their endgame.
With that in mind, we have been able to increase the number of scholarships we provide to students in the medical field, student athletes and our World Outreach program. I’ve also been working on a book that will be published and available soon, titled “A Journey We Share: Healing After Loss.” It’s a journal for grieving parents by parents who have opened their hearts to tell their personal stories of love, loss and encouragement.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact ?
The Abbie DeLoach Foundation, which I founded in 2016, was created to elevate education opportunities by providing scholarships to students to help them achieve their dreams. People without options feel they are trapped in whatever environment has taken hold of them. This includes the economic, social, spiritual and mental realms that contribute to who they are in today’s world. My experience has shown that education equals opportunities. I expand upon this further in the next question.
ADF encourages students to live an inspired life, and supports student athletes, nurses and missions abroad. I’m proud of the work we do every day, and of the students who are selected by the foundation as scholarship recipients. Abbie was a ray of light who lived inspired every day. We encourage everyone to touch hearts and help change lives as Abbie did.
In addition to helping students, ADF sponsors medical outreach trips that enable nursing students to receive hands-on experience while helping families in impoverished nations. We proudly built Abbie’s Home, an international home for women in India, to help stop the exploitation of women, and we are partnering with Proem Ministries in Poland to minister and give aid to Polish and Eastern European children, students and families.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
Many moons ago, I played and coached college football. I played at the University of Georgia, and a few years later was the recruiting coordinator at Georgia Southern College I-AA, in Statesboro, Georgia. We won back-to-back National Championships in ’85 and ’86 in football.
Those two teams were made up of very different kinds of people. They were from small towns and metropolitan cities. They were rich, poor and in between. They were well-educated and not so educated. They were tall and short. But they had had one thing in common: They were there to graduate with a degree so they could go on and be and do whatever they chose in life.
I know all of them did not graduate with a completed degree. Yet I can tell you that I was moved by how just one year of college life changed a perspective and opened up options for each of them.
It gave them a new measuring stick for what they could do in life, where they could live, what type of friends they wanted to associate with, how to become community leaders, what role to have in their future families and so many other decisions.
Education, however long it was, changed their lives.
I have seen firsthand the difference an opportunity can make. My early career experience working alongside Coach Russell also made me realize the importance of leadership and a commitment to excellence that would inspire students. And that’s what we do at the Abbie DeLoach Foundation.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
ADF sent medical missions to Ecuador before COVID-19. The team was made up of future nurses from five universities in Georgia. I was there with them.
They worked for 10 days from sunup to sundown at the local clinic and even went into many of the local people’s homes. They put book knowledge into sweat knowledge at a fast pace. I could see a spark evident in their eyes throughout the day as they performed with the gifts that were given to them early in life and through their education. Each of them pushed themselves way beyond the point of an eight-hour day.
One young man, who is now employed at a local hospital, met the grind of COVID-19 head on. He is now married and starting his own family. A few years after our trip to Ecuador, he told me, “That one experience opened me to what my passion in life was — being a nurse.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
First, work or volunteer at a daycare that teaches reading. Reading is the most important building block of a competitive education. We have many ways of adding and using other mathematical features, but reading gives you the ability to imagine your future.
Second, become a mentor for someone who has limited access to the American dream — having a family, owning your own house, having a desired income level and living in a safe environment.
Third, know your children’s school curriculum. Inspect their homework every night and have them explain it to you. I didn’t know some of the subject content and had to fake it when my girls asked questions, or I needed to ask a lot of questions myself to learn it. Do not accept anything but their best effort.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Share a story or example for each.
- Know your true North Star. The Abbie DeLoach Foundation is focused on three pillars, each representing who Abbie was during her short lifetime. Abbie was a nurse and student athlete, and she loved world missions. Abbie would wrap up her sister, Annie, with Band-Aids and play doctor all the time. Annie is now a physician assistant in Atlanta.
- Hire or meet as often as possible with someone who has experience with a nonprofit organization. As an entrepreneur and a businessman, I had the vision that I wanted to help others while keeping Abbie’s legacy of service alive. I had never operated a nonprofit and didn’t know how to start. Through a family connection, I met and hired a well-respected woman in philanthropy from the Savannah area. Dana has guided the foundation from the beginning, and I believe without her support, insight and skills, we would not be where we are today. And it doesn’t hurt that we’re both University of Georgia alums. Go Dawgs!
- Ask for money at the right time. I particularly wanted to have something solid to show in terms of goals having been accomplished by our own resources. We decided to wait five years before asking individuals or other organizations for support or financial donations. The goals were quite small in the beginning because of limited time and money. That changed over time. When you’re a winning team, many people will jump on the bandwagon.
- Support other local nonprofit organizations with money and participation in their goals. Pay for a golf team, walk in a race, hand out flyers, wear their shirts, attend functions that are planned, and get on Facebook and other social media and insert positive comments about other organizations. As you support others, so will you be supported.
- Know yourself. The legacy you leave is often about something you lost that is very valuable to you. I lost my daughter Abbie. I have to keep my why in the forefront of my mind and keep going. I know this is a marathon and not a 50-yard sprint. It’s important to know what you can do and what you can’t, and not to overload yourself financially, spiritually, emotionally or physically.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
Success has many different versions and levels, depending on what’s important to you. It could be money, a house, a job, and the list goes on and on.
I think that the pandemic revealed the importance of relationships. We connected virtually, and we missed being able to have lunch with colleagues, shaking hands, having group meetings, planning strategies in person, and doing things with a human touch or live personal conversation.
We’re seeing the fallout now as we face problems associated with people being isolated and depressed during the pandemic — even to the point of not seeing loved ones who were sick and dying, and having them pass from this life without your presence.
Being able to have our annual scholarship luncheon again, after a two-year pandemic hiatus, solidified my confidence that relationships are the foundation of our nonprofit.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I have experienced two of the most devastating losses a person can experience: the loss of a marriage and of a child. I could not have survived either one without my faith. It is truly the foundation for my life and my decisions. I know without a doubt that, no matter what, my God has a plan for me until the end of my life. It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle, question or have hard times. I have questions about my divorce, the loss of my daughter Abbie and much more. I seek motivation and inspiration through my reading of the Bible and daily prayer and quiet time.
For example, I found comfort in reading the Book of Job backwards from Chapter 42 to Chapter 1. It revealed to me personal answers about how to understand the why in terms of losing Abbie. I also accept that, on this side of life, I am not going to have all the answers, and that is okay. We all must discover what brings us peace and comfort during life’s adversities.
For me, the Bible gives me peace, guidance, courage and fortitude move forward each day after difficult setbacks.
Who would you like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit?
Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. I have been a fan of Pastor Stanley for many years, and listening to his sermons online inspires me.
How can our readers follow your progress online?
AJourneyWeShare.com (book to be released soon)
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.