Jenny O’Neal is Public Policy Associates’ new office manager. She brings an extensive skill set built from diverse professional and life experiences. Among other things, she was a 911 dispatcher, a youth Extension Service educator, a coordinator of college advisers, a small business owner, and the manager of a new BJ’s Wholesale Club. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science.

As office manager at PPA, what do you do?

The office manager is a jack of all trades. Especially in a virtual environment, I do the work that keeps everybody connected. I distribute the mail, manage human resources, and help Terry (CFO Terry Gardner) with accounting and finance and bookkeeping. When you’re in an organization like PPA where everybody is working on projects for clients, you need a person to do the overarching things that may not be specific to one particular project but are essential so everyone can do their best work.

The range of your work history is impressive. Is there a common thread?

It’s serving others and helping people meet their needs. I like the challenge of new stuff, whether it’s starting and running a small business or opening a brand-new BJ’s Wholesale Club. In my new position, I really enjoy helping PPA move forward with our newer leadership and in a largely virtual environment. I have ancestors that came to the United States from England and then traveled from New England to Michigan. They had that explorer mindset that there’s something new and exciting to be found somewhere else. I think it’s in my genes and DNA.

What’s your impression of PPA after one month?

PPA is great. It’s great to be back a little bit more in the academic world, although PPA’s not exactly that. Youth development and education are true passions of mine. PPA is on the front line of a lot of new ideas in those areas. It’s exciting to be supporting that work. And coming from retail and the rigors of owning your own business, I like being part of a team where you can find balance in life and have an employer that understands that a balanced employee is really the best employee.

You spent a lot of time around horses growing up, including clubs and activities at Michigan State University. Tell us a little about that.

Every girl grows up with a love of horses. I had the opportunity to work with top-quality horses, world champions, so my taste in horses far outweighed the budget. Life and opportunities have led me down a different path, but I would not trade the skills I learned. When you’ve handled a 1,500-pound stallion during rigorous and exciting activities, you can tackle and overcome an awful lot with the confidence that builds.

What do you do away from PPA?

My real love is spending time with my kids. My daughter is a freshman at Central Michigan. She was big into music and spent her career in band and orchestra, so I’ve attended a lot of football games and high school and middle school concerts. My son is a junior in high school and followed in his sister’s footsteps in band. We support the high school orchestra and band association. When I have a moment to myself, I like to do crafts.