For Ray Nell Jones, helping people is a lifestyle – and that’s exactly what she does. Rather than let her needs define her, Jones has put her courage and dedication into starting her own not-for-profit organization.
“When you ride a roller coaster, you want to do it over and over, so it’s just me,” Jones said. “I get this adrenaline rush when I help people.”
Jones founded and currently operates The Chapter allignmentwho donates boxes of basic groceries such as household items, feminine products, baby food and baby wipes to single mothers and needy low-income families in 29 states. J.Those said that when it comes to their nonprofit organization, “it operates from experience”.
“I’ve felt it, I’ve seen everything, I’ve taken care of everything, I’ve conquered everything, and I can’t do my job and help other women if I’ve never been through it,” said Jones.
When she became a single mom at age 19, attended college at Point Park University, and worked as a housekeeper at UPMC Montefiore, Jones remembered the difficulties she was having managing her new schedule. She often took her daughter to the babysitter at 7 a.m. and had no opportunity to pick her up until midnight. Jones said at the time that he was “financially illiterate”. Living from paycheck to paycheck and exercising self-care left her in a deteriorating state of mind.
“These are the things I remember when I was a first mother and didn’t spend enough time with my child because I was trying to go to school and work at the same time,” Jones said. “And I just feel like I’m mentally rejecting it.”
Jones said she had begun to rethink the importance of her role in her daughter’s life and wondered, “Are you better off without me?” and: “Am I a good mother?” Jones said she was struggling with thoughts of no longer caring about being a mother or taking care of herself.
“I really beat myself up and it got me thinking about not caring about being a mother anymore and about not caring about myself anymore,” said Jones. “And those things were because of everything I’ve been through and then that came with anger and that came with frustration.”
During that time, Jones said she started couponing, which she left in her house with hordes of household items like toilet paper, diapers, and formulas. Jones said she had the resources to help others in situations similar to her and began packing these items in bags and taking them to the bus stop to share with the women in her community, which marked the beginning of the Allignment chapter.
“I remember the first time I did this,” said Jones. “How excited all the mothers were and how many relationships I built by putting my baby in their harness and walking from bus stop to bus stop in my community.”
One relationship she built was with Ketura Brown, a single mother of four from Pittsburgh. Brown, who currently owns her own unified business and works as a patient care technician at UPMC Presbyterian. She said she received resources from the Allignment Chapter during a period of unemployment when she needed household items for her family.
Brown said after reaching out to The Allignment Chapter and working with Jones, they have been friends ever since. She said the organization is a great way to raise funds in “tough times”. and she particularly values how to achieve and maintain these resources without fear of judgment.
“Providing real help without judgment is something The Allignment Chapter prides itself on – that alone has worked,” said Brown. “Knowing that I can rely on Ray Nell and knowing that I can trust her, takes a lot of pressure off me as a single mother.”
In addition to her work at The Allignment Chapter, Jones has a positive reputation for working with Pitt as an administrative assistant in student affairs. Linda Williams-Moore, assistant dean of students at Pitt and Jones’ boss, said after working with her for about three years: She can confidently say that Jones is “the light of our office”. Williams-Moore said Jones connects well with anyone who walks in and always makes sure that student needs are met.
“All areas of life come into our office,” said Williams-Moore. “And she can connect with these people.”
Jones said she always wanted to start a nonprofit but didn’t know how to go about it financially. Denial of every grant she requested, including the Pittsburgh Foundation Emergency Action Fund, didn’t make the process any easier, but Jones said donations from the community kept the organization alive.
Jones is proud to be completely self-taught in creating the November 2019 Allignment Chapter as it expanded to 29 states through social media and word of mouth. Jones takes everything out of her house, packages, and delivers the emergency kits for 6,221 mothers based on their responses to the organization’s online form.
“I became the hero I didn’t have,” said Jones. “And that was always my main goal.”
Alanna Reid | Employee photographer
Jones said the name “allignment” coincides with the nonprofit’s mission to align women with their financial needs by not paying for the essentials of the household and “aligning all women with their purpose.”
She said her greatest inspirations were her two daughters, and she hopes the Allignment Chapter can ensure better lives for those she loves.
“It’s just the things that I want to do a big nonprofit where my kids don’t have to go through the things that I’ve been through,” Jones said.
Not only was Jones’ work recognized in the Pittsburgh community, it also received additional attention from Ellen DeGeneres, who presented Jones in the Mother’s Day Special of the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” in May 2020. DeGeneres surprised Jones with a new Hyundai Santa Fe and donations to the organization.
Jones said she was still in shock from the surreal experience on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”. Having never owned a car before, Jones said that the experience and the gift from DeGeneres had influenced her a lot.
“It was like a sigh of relief,” said Jones. “Because you do so much and don’t seek to give things back to yourself.”
Williams-Moore said she found Jones’ work in the Allignment Chapter “fantastic”. She said a lot of the people she worked with on Student Affairs didn’t even know she was working on this project, which Williams-Moore said was a clear sign of Jones’ humility.
“She’s not doing this job for people to recognize,” said Williams-Moore. “She does it because she knows it’s important work.”
Williams-Moore said she loves working with Jones and finds the work Jones does for single mothers in the community very noble.
“The work she does in the community for single mothers is to be commended,” said Williams-Moore. “She goes beyond herself and that is important.”
Jones has big plans for the future of The Allignment Chapter, starting with the opening of the first warehouse as a “home base” for running the organization. Her dream is one day to own a big, pink, glitzy van that drives from state to state delivering emergency packages to different communities.
“I’ve always wanted to go from church to church and make these gift boxes and when people see me they say, ‘You are here! ‘A sigh of relief like help is here,’ said Jones. “This is how I see the Allignment Chapter in the future.”
Brown said Jones’ work at The Allignment Chapter was “amazing”. and commends the role Jones has played within the community. Like Jones, she hopes The Allignment Chapter will expand soon.
“She has practically taken on standing up for us and being our voice,” said Brown. “That alone is commendable – I see her taking the Allignment Chapter worldwide.”
Through the Allignment Chapter, Jones encourages women, no matter what situation they are in, to “stay positive”. J.An example is that poverty, homelessness or single motherhood “will not define who you are”.
Jones stresses that nobody is just a statistic and everyone deserves the opportunity to go where they want in life. One of her greatest inspirations is telling her story about all the women she’s helped and then creating the Allignment Chapter.
“It’s my biggest inspiration, helping so many mothers, hearing so many stories and seeing so many lives have changed,” said Jones. “Mindsets are the greatest. When you change someone’s mindset, you change their life.”