Long before she was the leader of the nation’s largest nonprofit organization, Jo Ann Jenkins was a child in Mobile County.
Jenkins, CEO of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), grew up on Mon Louis Island, 16 miles from Mobile, and has fond memories of her time there. It was special because on one side of the island was Mobile Bay, she said, and on the other was Fowl River.
“I always say I’m very proud to be from Mobile,” she said.
The Theodore High School and Spring Hill College (SHC) graduate went on to work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for President Ronald Reagan’s administration. She went on to work for President George H.W. Bush’s administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she said she fell in love with public service.
“I developed a fierce admiration for public service and how important it is,” she said.
Jenkins graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business executive program and has honorary doctorates from both SHC and Washington College.
From there, she went on to the Library of Congress and left as the chief operating officer (COO). She later went to work for the for-profit board of AARP, which she said she enjoyed.
“It has always been involved with helping low-income and vulnerable people,” she said. “I ran the foundation for two years.”
From there, she was made COO of AARP and 18 months later became CEO. She has been CEO for five years.
Jenkins was back in Mobile earlier this month to cut the ribbon on AARP-sponsored adult fitness equipment at James Seals Park downtown.
“It’s always great to come home,” she said. “It was good to be back and see so many smiling faces and eat some good food.”
The equipment is part of an initiative AARP has started to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Jenkins said, by giving back to communities all over the country. Mobile is the first city in Alabama to be awarded the equipment. Although she said she would like to, Jenkins can’t take credit for Mobile getting the new park.
“The state office pitched Mobile,” she said.
The 1,400-square-foot park has 22 different equipment stations, designed to be inclusive of all ages. Jenkins said the equipment is focused on preventing danger and injury, while promoting a healthy lifestyle for retirees and seniors. The equipment is designed to use one’s own body weight as resistance, so it’s unlike other exercise equipment and can be used by visitors with a variety of body types.
“It’s our way of showcasing you can exercise at any age,” she said.
The equipment is protected by a sun shade feature and is open to the public during regular park hours. The next AARP fitness park is scheduled to open in Phoenix and more than a dozen more are planned for next year.
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