By MICHELE GRAHAM
Photography by CHICHI UBIÑA
She’s a TV news personality, editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine, and the daughter of an American president. In-person she’s kind of like the girl next door. Jenna Bush Hager started out intending to devote her career to being a teacher, but along the way she wrote a couple of books and The Today Show came calling … and calling. “I loved teaching. I never thought I would leave,” says Jenna.
Jenna worked as a middle school teacher for 5 years in inner city Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Extremely committed to her students, Jenna admits working in inner city schools is highly challenging. “Education and literacy are very important to me. Leaving was really hard.” Jenna had also spent a year living in Latin America as an intern with UNICEF. Her work and the people she met there inspired her to write the Young Adult book Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope. This was quickly followed by a children’s book she co-authored with her mother, Read All About It! This gained her the attention of Today’s executive producer who brought Jenna on as the education correspondent. For a while Jenna did double duty as a reading specialist with her school and being on national TV. Eventually she and her husband decided to move to New York. These days Jenna’s role at Today has evolved and expanded thanks to her quick wit and approachable style.
Given her passion for working with youth – as a teacher and advocate – Jenna teamed up with UNICEF and launched UNICEF Next Generation about 10 years ago. Jenna realized, “UNICEF was missing my generation and getting them involved.” Over the years, Next Generation has raised millions of dollars to help children across the globe. In addition, Jenna is a long-time supporter of Teach for America.
Becoming an early member of GIFF’s Executive Board was almost a given. When her cousin, GIFF co-founder Wendy Stapleton, brought up the idea Jenna was all game. Jenna is a firm believer that, “Films and books can highlight our differences. I’ve been moved by films and the people they highlight.” GIFF’s philanthropy component was the icing on top. To make it a complete trifecta, the Bush family ties to Greenwich extend generations with her great grandmother and grandfather (George H. W. Bush, also known as 41) having called the town home. And while Jenna prefers Manhattan for now, she has lots of friends who have moved out to Greenwich. In speaking about GIFF Jenna says, “Greenwich is so close to New York. People want that type of culture and to get involved. People want to have these conversations. I was so proud to come on board.”
Jenna’s most recent endeavor is the NBC Saturday morning show GIVE. Executive Producer, the actor Blair Underwood, emailed Jenna with the pitch to join the show. Jenna was impressed with the concept of highlighting and helping nonprofits that are doing terrific work. “I am thrilled to be a part of GIVE,” she says about her co-hosting role.
Jenna is super efficient, but even she admits “I know I can’t get it all done.” Her work entails traveling several days a week but she tries to be home after work and have uninterrupted time with her two young children. “Organization is really key, but forgiveness is the main thing. I try not to be too hard on myself, I know things will all work out.”
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