FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – When you first meet Jennifer Danford, you’ll likely notice her warm smile and calm demeanor. When that meeting leads to conversation, you’ll realize those two characteristics are gateways to the soul of a generous and caring woman.
However, that just scratches the surface of why she was nominated as a “Remarkable Woman” in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee. Her desire to help others has impacted dozens of Florence-area students inside the classroom, and dozens more families outside of it.
Her life’s calling
We met Danford at Briggs Elementary in Florence, where she works as a behavioral specialist. While her degree is in music education, she was hired at Briggs Elementary four years ago as a reading assistant. One conversation changed the trajectory of her future at the school.
“I noticed in a lot of the kids that I was working with, who were academically behind, that there was more than met the eye… they were exhibiting a lot of behaviors that can go along with trauma, but not necessarily that they were being abused or anything like that,” she recalled. “But maybe they’ve experienced something, whether it’s a car accident or a flood or if they were born prematurely.”
That conversation led to Danford creating a sensory area at the school to work with students. She told us the transformations she now sees first-hand are “life-changing.”
“That’s super exciting for me because it gives them some hope, helps them see outside of their current situation,” she said with tears in her eyes. “It’s like, ‘Yes! You can do it! Look at you!’ and it’s so fun just to cheer them on. So I get to be this huge cheerleader for them.”
Like many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic changed Danford’s work as a behavioral specialist. While her work became more difficult, it simply couldn’t stop in the classroom. It had to continue inside the homes of her students as well, especially when students were forced to learn remotely.
“Something that I’ve really prayed about, as long as I’ve been doing – working with kids in a sensory sort of way – just that I would have more opportunities to connect with the parents,” she said.
The answer to her prayer — Zoom meetings. She started virtual training classes for parents to attend, which provided them with the tools they needed to continue building on their child’s progress and success. The sessions covered everything from connecting with children in a relational way to developing daily schedules for academic success during hybrid and virtual learning.
“I think that sometimes we think if you have a child that you know what it looks like to be a parent, but we know you don’t get an instruction book,” she said.
Her heart’s calling
While Danford’s life calling is inside the walls of Briggs Elementary, her heart’s calling lies in The Jade Bridge.
Danford founded the non-profit organization to help local families on their fostering and adoptive journeys – one she knows firsthand. Danford and her husband, Kendal, went through the international adoption process and welcomed an infant, Anna, to their family. Today, they are the proud parents of three girls – Jordan, Anna and Lydia.
“Honestly, we impacted her life with some trauma when we brought about all of those changes. Ultimately, it’s for the greater good, but it was traumatic,” she recalled.
One thing Danford wishes she had more of during her adoptive journey: Support from other families who were walking the same road.
Today, Anna is a sixth-grader at Briggs Elementary and the inspiration behind Danford’s non-profit Christian organization.
“It’s a place that I never imagined that I would be,” she said. “It was not anything that I was necessarily seeking out and I never had a plan to begin a ministry like The Jade Bridge … ever. But here we are!”
The Jade Bridge’s website says its goal is to help “strengthen and preserve the family structure for the glory of God” and “seeks to offer hope, encouragement, and support to these families through various events, family fun packs, counseling, training, foster care bags and more.”
The Jade Bridge celebrates its fifth birthday in March and throughout the years, has impacted dozens of families in Florence, Darlington, Marion, Horry, and Chesterfield Counties. The organization also trains teachers, parents, and has resources for social workers to help them understand children who may have a traumatic background.
This past Christmas, Danford created a program that benefited roughly 80 children in kinship foster care and the Darlington County DSS system. The Jade Bridge teamed up with local businesses in the Pee Dee to help provide them Christmas presents and cheer. The Jade Bridge also has the help of local and college-aged volunteers to make care bags for area social workers.
“I love the challenge of thinking outside of the box to see a need, and then figure out how to meet a need,” Danford said.
The Jade Bridge organization hopes to bring back one of its popular events for local families in 2021 – pending the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. It hosts a Summer Bash for local foster and adoptive families to bond over their journeys and experiences – of course, with lots of fun, smiles, and laughs!
“When somebody says, ‘Thank you,’ or ‘This is the most fun our family has had in a long time,’ then I immediately just think ‘Thank you God that you got me through,'” she said with tears in her eyes. “Thank you for giving me that opportunity – that hardship so that I could walk through it trusting you and knowing that you are going to give me what I needed to get through in order to then turn around and benefit somebody else. It was not in vain. And that, that makes it all worthwhile. So worthwhile.”
What’s in store for 2021?
Danford hopes that she can use her faith to guide her teachings in the classroom and her passion for community to continue lifting others up and making a positive change.
“She does all of these things on top of being an incredible wife, mother, and friend to so many,” her husband said, who nominated her. “Most of the work she does for others often goes unseen, but it creates dramatic changes in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of children and adults every year.”
“We serve a really big God, who is not limited to this box that we like to put Him in. Just to experience the different dimensions of His love for us, to then carry it out to share with others… it’s just amazing. It’s amazing,” Danford explained.
You can learn more about The Jade Bridge and how to get involved by clicking here.