New exec Pace hopes to continue VOA legacy _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PAM BORDELON --- Janet Pace, new president/CEO of Volunteers of America, Greater Baton Rouge

It’s been a whirlwind for Janet Pace since she took over the helm of Volunteers of America, Greater Baton Rouge on Dec. 1.

“I’ve been to a party or luncheon every day since I started,” she says with a laugh.

It’s provided her with a unique look at the 60-plus programs throughout the 19 parishes served by the VOA.

“It’s been a great start,” she continues. “I’m so lucky — blessed really — with a staff that knows what they’re doing. They really care. Jane (Shank, who retired as president/CEO after 13 years) left an amazing legacy; I hope to continue to grow it.”

Pace has quite a legacy herself. Growing up in Midland, Texas, to a mother who was a nurse and physician father, she says she always felt called to some type of ministry. She knew she didn’t want to be a traditional minister or missionary but still wanted to be able to serve her fellow man. Volunteering provided the perfect outlet.

“That’s where I felt I could honor that calling,” says Pace.

After graduating from Southern Methodist University with degrees in journalism and political science, Pace eventually found herself living in Baton Rouge. The mother of four — Julie, Drew, Karen and Alex — joined the Junior League and Rotary Club. She served on the boards of Volunteers in Public Schools, Academic Distinction Fund, Young Leaders Academy, Playmakers and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge. She went on to run for the East Baton Rouge School Board, serving for three years, followed by a tenure as president/CEO of Volunteer! Baton Rouge (2004-2006), director of volunteer outreach for the Office of Lieutenant Governor’s Louisiana Service Commission (2007-2008), executive director of the Office of Lieutenant Governor’s Volunteer Louisiana Commission (2009-2014) and, most recently, executive director of the Foundation for East Baton Rouge School System. In the middle of all this, she divorced and obtained her master’s degree in public administration from LSU.

Leaving Baton Rouge, however, never crossed her mind.

“It’s always felt like home to me,” says the 56-year-old Pace, who has now added four grandchildren to the mix that keeps her rooted to the community. “They change the whole way you look at the world.”

During all her time volunteering and working with volunteers, Pace crossed paths with Volunteers of America and knew of the good work done by the agency. It’s mission is to “reach and uplift all people and bring them to the knowledge and active service of God … illustrating the presence of God through all that we do, serve people and communities in need, and create opportunities for people to experience the joy of serving others.”

When she heard Shank was retiring, she discovered the ministry aspect of the position and threw her name in the hat.

“The CEO has to become a minister,” explains Pace. “I didn’t know that; it really intrigued me.

“It’s nondenominational, kind of a lay position,” she continues. “I start that piece of it (her training) in September … the support you get from national is great. I really like having that support and resources from national.”

Meanwhile, Pace continues familiarizing herself with the agency and its staff.

“Aside from Baton Rouge, we have offices in Lafayette and Lake Charles; some 400 employees. Again, we have great people everywhere,” she says. “I’m still trying to find where we can make the most impact. I’m going to do my part to make it even better; make VOA even stronger.”