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2021 Class Of Rising Stars – Jessica James

Philanthropy is more than a concept to Jessica James, it is a core value that she embodies in all that she does. As a child, Jessica excelled in school and her inquisitive and innovative nature set the stage for her future roles in the culinary arts. Since she was not encouraged to go to college, she sought out a pathway to build on the skills she had developed while working as a line chef in her hometown just outside of Wichita, Kansas. This decision led her to Johnson County Community College, where she developed her love of innovative culinary design.

From Centurion to PTA president (Notre Dame de Sion), Jessica is a courageous leader who asks difficult questions and prompts others to think in new ways. Having experienced situations where her economic status created barriers to success and social acceptance, Jessica is an inclusive leader who models the way to create a culture of belonging. She is truly community-minded and sees connecting with the community as central to her purpose and not just an outcome of her profession. Jessica Earnshaw said, “Jessica has made a deliberate attempt to follow the needs of Kansas Citians, take initiative, and act accordingly.

Jessica James recently started a new role as project manager for transportation planning and policy for Burns & McDonnell. Her previous work as the director of innovation at AMC Theatres and senior innovation manager for Applebee’s built a robust portfolio of transferable skills that are an extension of her expertise as a well-known chef and innovator.

When asked about her thoughts on philanthropy, Jessica said she believes in actions that are “simple and meaningful,” and that giving of one’s time is often the most needed and impactful act a volunteer can do. She is happiest when on the frontline, engaging with the clients served. As Audra Clark, formerly of City Year Kansas City, shared, “Jessica is the type of person who doesn’t just talk about an issue. She mobilizes her network and does something about it. It’s inspiring.” Audra noted Jessica’s willingness to help people register to vote and also her strong leadership as PTA president during a school year with unprecedented challenges.

Jessica has committed her time to support several organizations in Kansas City. Her work with Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City during a span of six years has been recognized and celebrated. From being a 2014 Most Wanted honoree to serving on the Empowerment Breakfast committee and offering her expertise on the Careers in Culinary panel, Jessica has had an incredible impact on the organization’s mission to provide one-to-one mentoring to youth in our community. As Tiffany Stuck, BBBSKC, noted, “Jessica’s passion for helping kids in our community is evident through her actions but also through her constant advocacy.”

While the list of organizations that Jessica supports also includes ArtsKC, No Kid Hungry, Thelma’s Kitchen, and others, she has also initiated several events and activities that have had great impact in the community. An example of Jessica’s altruism is her work with the Kansas City Police Department to provide holiday meals and children’s wish list items to families in need. During the past four years, Jessica has recruited friends and family to assist in providing the necessary items to support the families identified by the KCPD. She has built a long-standing relationship with Major Ryan Mills of KCPD’s Special Operations and has continued to build on the capacity of the program and number of families served.

Jessica is a busy wife and mother of two school-aged children. She is dedicated to creating inclusive spaces where diverse voices are valued and amplified. Her work assisting with the Black Lives Matter murals and voter registration are extensions of her inclusive leadership style. Audra Clark said, “Jessica shoots it straight, is a creative thinker and follows through – all qualities that make her a strong force for social change.”

Also featured in the August 21, 2021 issue of The Independent
By Nicole Jacobs Silvey

Photo Credit: Tom Styrkowicz


Nicole Jacobs Silvey

Nicole is passionate about philanthropy and spent more than 20 years working in the non-profit sector. She became a contributing writer for The Independent in April of 2021 and enjoys telling the stories of Kansas City’s most noted leaders. When not writing for The Independent, she dedicates her time as the Founder and President of Connection Coach KC. Nicole can most often be found cheering on her son, Rowan, during a sporting event or spending time volunteering at one of the many organizations she admires. Nicole and her husband, Patrick, enjoy raising Rowan and Cooper (their golden puppy!) in Kansas City, a community they love to call home.


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