Interview with Brenda Pesante – 45 Years With JEP
By Kathrin Altmann
You have been described by people as the soul of JEP – how would you describe your current role in the JEP house?
That’s kind of hard…I have many roles. I oversee the placement of hundreds of USC students every semester as volunteers in local schools and organizations. In addition, I supervise a team of 25-30 undergraduate student-workers who serve as peer educators for service-learning students. My greatest love is working with our peer educators (Program Assistants). I enjoy training, supporting, mentoring, and guiding them.
Since you’ve now been with JEP for 45 Years since May 1st, 1975 and JEP is soon going to turn 50 years, you have been with JEP almost from the start. So how would you describe your journey with JEP through the years?
People often ask me “How can you be at a job for 45 years?” The answer is simple I love what I do! I have worked under all four of our JEP Executive Directors and have learned so much from each and every one of them. I have seen our program grow over the years in every aspect from adding new programs (Readers Plus, Young Scientist Program, Trojan Health Volunteers, Pre-Law Project and many more), upgrading and adding more equipment (we started with one computer with the amber screen) and adding more partnering schools and agencies.
There are probably many – but what would you say are some of the lessons that you learned from working at JEP for 45 years?
I would say to be patient, to always be willing and open to learn, and be grateful – because there is just a lot to be grateful for. You will never find a place like JEP. We are very family-oriented and supportive. We work as a team and complement each other. I am extremely organized and I’m always working 10 steps ahead of what is coming next on my to-do list.
Can you share some favorite memories you have from working with JEP for so long?
That is hard! I have 45 years of memories. Here are just a few:
*One of my favorite memories was the remodeling of the JEP house. We needed more office space (since we were growing so fast).
*Tammy Anderson (former Executive Director) and I attended a conference in Washington D.C. and we stayed at a former program assistant’s house that I had kept in touch with throughout the years.
*A truly happy memory when Dick Cone (former Executive Director) attended my wedding with his wife Jean. He was such a wonderful humble man and a true mentor.
*Tammy Anderson was able to get a large endowment from Mr. Salvatori. We visited Mr. Salvatori a few times and I loved his personality. He was such a down to earth man.
I know you are a very humble person, so this question might be a little tough. But throughout your 45 years with JEP, what is one of your proudest accomplishments?
About 8 years or more ago, Tina Koneazny nominated me for a Staff award and I won. I was so touched. It was a big accomplishment to be recognized for all the work I have done at JEP over the years. [editor’s note: at the time when this interview was conducted, Brenda did not know yet that she would win yet another award]
I think one of the things that you can be very proud of is preparing so many young people for life. I know you are humble but I think that is an extraordinary achievement that very few people can say about themselves!
Thank you! You know it’s interesting that you bring that up because just last week I got an email from and old program assistant who started with “Hi Brenda I hope you’re doing well, I don’t know if you remember me” and to me that is so interesting because I remember them all!
As we just discussed, you have so much great life experience that you share with us at JEP every day. So what would you say is some of the best advice that you have given over the years that you would love to share with all of the program assistants to come?
To work hard. Reach for the sky but be realistic on some occasions. They all know I have high expectations of them when it comes to work ethics. It’s just my way of preparing them for their next job.
We have talked a lot about your past at JEP now, but obviously we have you for a few more years still! Is there something you particularly look forward to in the future – maybe especially considering that we haven’t been to the house due to COVID19 for months now? Is there something you look forward to when we get back to campus?
Hmm.. the whole pandemic has taught me that we take things for granted. It has made me appreciate everything that I have. I miss socializing with family and friends. I look forward to my return to campus. Seeing and working with my Colleagues and Program Assistants.
Thank you so much for this interview, Brenda!
Note from the editor: Brenda was nominated for the Staff Assembly Award with the support from 31 (!) individual letters of recommendation, written by colleagues, students, community partners, alumni, and supervisors, which truly speaks to how much Brenda is loved and appreciated! We feel lucky to be working with her every day.