How a Passion for Helping Children Has Fueled This Metro Atlanta IT Support Company's Drive to Make an Impact in Gwinnett County
When Maureen Kornowa, director of the Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, approached MIS Solutions about sponsoring its very first Power of One award, she didn’t have to ask twice. Jennifer and Lliam Holmes, owners of MIS Solutions an IT support provider in Atlanta, are no strangers to organizations that serve local children. In fact, they have been serving in and contributing to youth organizations long before they had children of their own.
“At MIS, we are passionate about adding value at every interaction and truly living out our core values – Do, Grow, Lead and Serve. That means we want to have a positive impact on our employees, our vendors, our customers and our community. We want to provide good jobs and be good citizens of our community. That’s why we use part of our proceeds to help better Gwinnett,” said Lliam.
“We feel it is our passion to serve kids,” said Jennifer, although she nor Lliam can’t pinpoint a single moment or event that sparked that desire. “It seems like opportunities to help children just kept popping up over the years, so we’ve been led down this path. I think sometimes your passion just finds you.”
As a small girl growing up in Metro Atlanta, Jennifer always enjoyed lining up her dolls and stuffed animals and teaching her “students.” She enjoyed the idea of working with children so much that one of her first jobs as a teenager was working at a daycare center. And that’s when reality smacked her in the face. Working with a room full of 3-year-olds is tough no matter how much you love children! Unfortunately, the daycare center did not properly train her, but instead just left her in charge of the children during the “witching hour” from 4-6 p.m. when the kids are tired and ready to go home. “I didn’t feel like I was serving those children well, so after six weeks, I quit. It sort of left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Sometimes You Just Need a Little Encouragement
That could have been the end of Jennifer’s calling to work with children, but as fate would have it, more opportunities to help local kids continued to present themselves through the years. As a member of Omega Phi Alpha, Georgia Tech’s service sorority, she participated in a mentoring program for disadvantaged children living in Techwood, a nearby low-income housing project. That experience refueled her desire to serve kids. “I know it sounds cliché but I believe it’s true that you gain so much more from giving. It just felt great to be able to help someone who just needed a little extra encouragement,” she said.
“I believe people are wired to do amazing things, but I think a lot of people struggle with a lack of confidence in their abilities, and so what tends to happen is when we fail in school, or with our peers or in our society, we take it so personally and that can become stifling. I know because I’m a recovering perfectionist! Over time, children can become hostage to self-doubt so they need to understand that it’s OK to fail as long as you continue to move forward and never quit trying to become a better you.”
Since having children of their own, that drive to make a difference has only intensified. Lliam has served in the youth ministry at their church and volunteers with local Boy Scouts while Jennifer is heavily involved with the Girl Scouts. “What we try to teach our children and those that we mentor is ‘if you can believe, you can achieve,’” she said. As a child, Jennifer remembers being inspired by ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ which is a book about a girl engine who thought she could so she did. “The lesson is as relevant today as it was when it was first published almost 90 years ago. As an adult, I still find myself picking it up and reading it whenever I need a little extra encouragement. Our belief systems fuel action and action gets results.”
Charity Starts at Home
Many corporations choose to support much larger global causes, but Lliam and Jennifer felt compelled to give to those organizations located right here in their own backyard. Having lived in Gwinnett for 24 years, they felt they would have a greater impact on the future of children living in their own community. “Our philosophy is that charity does indeed start at home,” said Jennifer.
One of the more recent projects is an afterschool math enrichment program for fourth- and fifth-grade students at Cedar Hill Elementary which is funded by MIS Solutions. "What we realized when our own children were in elementary school is that those children who were below average had access to resources to help them reach grade-level proficiency,” said Jennifer. “We also noticed that the high-achieving students had FOCUS, the gifted program in Gwinnett County schools to challenge them even further than their regular math classes. But the kids in the middle – those who needed a little extra help – were on their own." Seeing a need that wasn't being met, Jennifer and Lliam created a program to help those middle-of-the-road kids.
Over the years, Jennifer and Lliam have incorporated that spirit of giving at MIS Solutions. Employees and their families have donated Christmas gifts to children living at Eagle Ranch. They have planted gardens at the Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter’s campus, mentored the children there and participated in several career days.
An encounter at their children’s bus stop with a shivering small girl – who didn’t own a coat – one blustery November morning, made them realize that there are families who are doing the best they can and just trying to get by. “Children don’t choose their circumstances,” said Lliam, “but we feel like it’s our calling and responsibility to help those who need it. So when we see a need, we tackle it.” Jennifer and Lliam were able to take that child shopping for a coat but didn’t stop there. Through MIS, they launched a winter coat drive and with the help of their clients were able to collect more than 100 coats which were donated to the North Gwinnett Co-Op.
Jennifer’s involvement with Gwinnett Great Days of Service, a program of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services, gave her her first exposure to Gwinnett Children’s Shelter. At the time, GCS was a level-one lockdown facility that housed juveniles from the Division of Family and Children Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice. It has since redirected its focus to breaking the cycle of homelessness by offering hope and a path to sustainability for young children and their mothers. With this new vision came the new name – Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter. “Maureen (Kornowa) reached out to us during the rebranding and wanted us to be involved. We just felt moved so we stepped up and sponsored their annual event and then again in 2016,” said Lliam. “We are honored to be able to share our good fortune with such a worthy organization.”
“We really do believe we are the best IT support company in Gwinnett – we’ve been voted Best of Gwinnett for 13 years in a row,” said Jennifer. “That’s why we are driven to make an impact on and contribute to the community that made us great.”