Jessica Grace Allen: Director of Still Waters, Founder of The Refinery and Maiden from Maiden South
A few months ago, my husband and I decided to go exploring on our day off. We had never been to Bainbridge, Georgia, but since it was only thirty minutes away, we decided to make the trip.
We stopped for lunch and noticed some candles for sale. The young man behind the counter spoke up and said, “They’re made by the women of Still Waters.” We talked with him for a minute and decided to take one of the candles home. With the candle, we ended up taking home much more.
I’ve always had a huge spot in my heart for women and when I researched Still Waters and The Refinery, tears came to my eyes. The imagery and story behind The Refinery is something truly beautiful. I wanted to know more, so I emailed Jessica, who I would later come to meet.
Jessica Grace Allen is a Renaissance Woman if I have ever seen one. Women like her are what inspired us to start The Renaissance Women. We started The Renaissance Woman for women who need to be inspired, women we wanted to help, women like the ones at Still Waters.
Below is my interview with Jessica.
“That’s a bit of a story….I have a degree in psychology and worked as a crisis counselor at an ER and psychiatric hospital, then as a counselor at the Institute of Learning Research in Nashville, Tennessee. I then transitioned into less direct client care and worked as community/outreach manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Tennessee. I tended to need breaks from these types of jobs so I always found a retail job to fill a creative/aesthetic void. (I worked in merchandising at whats.in.store, Anthropologie and Ten Thousand Villages). I kid but actually mean it when I say, I always wanted to be a Jill of all trades.”
How did you meet your partner, the other maiden from Maiden South, Natalie Kirbo?
“We initially met at a meeting of local community members interested in bringing an artist in residence program to Bainbridge. Natalie had interviewed my boss/mentor Missy Rollins previously and she thought we should meet, and we did for coffee later and a couple of hours in we knew it was good.”
How did you come to hear about Still Waters?
“I moved back to Bainbridge in January 2013 for a planned 6 months before going overseas. My plans fell apart in March. I was prone to a pity party and was trying to navigate what was next. A school counselor in town asked me to join her at the women’s shelter that had literally just opened. I went and sat in on an assessment for a new resident, met Missy and was fully involved in a volunteer capacity within a few weeks.”
How was The Refinery born?
“Well, social enterprises were my interest for overseas work so my head was still in that space when starting at Still Waters. It kept rising to the surface when I would goal set with the ladies. I would see that they would never get out of their position without work and there were only so many possible jobs here.
I don’t mean this in a negative sense- but I started seeing the similarities between a developing country and my hometown. How there were women slipping through the cracks and a quote I used to have on my desk in Nashville came up, ‘teach a man a skill and he changes/feeds his home, teach a woman a skill and she changes/feeds her entire community.’
We needed our residents to feel worthy, to contribute and some days to have a reason to keep going. And we needed Bainbridge to offer a light to those in darkness. So we would make our own.
Missy, Rollins Miller (a friends ministry board member) and I talked about it and spent lots of time coming up with a name. Rollins made our very first sample candle and it sits on his office window sill to this day. We went to Nashville TN for a conference at Thistle Farms, a fantastic organization which has done this exact thing with rescued women from sex trafficking. We talked with the vast amount of similar organizations doing the same thing in their communities. It was inspiring and a real catalyst for what was to come. We had a free building and supplies by October and sold our first candles in November 2013. (Six months after I started at still waters).
It goes without saying that this is all evidence of God at work and not me. I personally didn’t want to live in Bainbridge again or work in social service. But that is God’s thoughtfulness, he gives us skills, he takes us through paths in life that are simply preparing us to do what He wants us to do. The struggle is no longer a struggle when you just listen to Him. He tends to know what He is doing.”
What made you decide to open Maiden South?
“In that first coffee convo with Natalie we just clicked in a lot of ways. I think we were both just ready to DO SOMETHING in this community and it felt so good to have someone with the same passion and heart say YES, lets….I had already started my own shop idea online with a name/logo etc. but fear really came in by doing it myself. I actually looked at the building Maiden South is currently in two years before we moved in it. I really wanted it but couldn’t make it work alone. I think God was giving me teasers/windows along the way of what was coming if I just had faith. Dreams adapt sometimes, it still makes them no less a dream!
Nat and I also think that if you sit down with someone seeking to find what is good and what you have in common rather than what is different your whole perspective changes! We both were/are creators at heart and wanted a way to feature that. I had a strong retail past and Natalie has a popular lifestyle blog oystersandpearls.net and lots of maker friends. We both had felt a little isolated in Bainbridge and wanted to find our place. And we wanted that place to be a gathering spot for anyone that needed it. We birthed Maiden South within 6 months of meeting one another. I couldn’t trust someone more or be more thankful to have her as my partner. We are still learning a whole lot but our guiding voice is the same.”
Can you tell us about the women of Still Waters? There are so many ministries, why did you choose this one?
“Our residents are displaced women. The reason for their displacement can be for a variety of reasons. Most are relational issues but many are simply living so closely to the edge, paycheck to paycheck, so when they miss one or two, or their husband finds a girlfriend they have nothing. I had interned at domestic violence shelter while in college and was always amazed how many women went back. On average it takes a woman 7 times to actually leave her abuser. I had worked with teenage girls in Nashville as a Young Life leader and I think my heart is always finding a way to help women -in all our stages- be fearless.”
Since Still Waters does not receive government funding, where does your funding come from?
“Almost all private donations. We also have fundraisers with local businesses and agencies.”
What motivates you?
“Beauty. Opportunity. Life is this lovely tablescape of choices, people, moments.
God is a really creative genius.”
If you could only offer one piece of advice to all women and young girls, what would it be?
“SOMEONE loves you completely. You don’t need to chase or earn or keep it, it is there regardless.
Knowing that, what could you do with your life? That’s really more than one piece but its one idea?”
Do you have any goals that you would like to share with our readers?
“In my head there are so many things I’d like to do, including expanding The Refinery to more products and job opportunities. I’d love to create more and I’d love to write at the very least a collection of short stories. I’d love to develop a starting place in our community for entrepreneurs. My heart still wants to travel and see so much and I believe God will allow that at some point but my first goal is to plan less and be available more…because you never know….I see potential everywhere.”
Maiden South donates 10% of our yearly net profit to local charities.
Jessica Grace Allen is a Bainbridge native, Jessica Grace attended Valdosta State University before heeding the call of the city lights and artistic energy of Nashville, Tennessee. After living there for ten years, she has a deep appreciation for creative, community-based environments. While in Nashville, she worked in social services and retail and design; contrasting avenues she was equally passionate about. Her experience in management, design, communications and merchandise-buying planted the seed for something of her own. Now back in her hometown, she also serves as the Director of Still Waters Home and is the founder of The Refinery.
Forever a dreamer and a do-er, Jessica Grace envisions big things for this community and beyond. From planning events to working with prints and textiles, she loves to create things that have feeling and soul.