Meet Jeff! Throughout the month of March, The Faces of Woodstock has highlighted local non-profit Next Step Ministries. We finish by spotlighting longtime supporter of Next Step, Jeff Nevison. Jeff is a founding member and current owner of Mountain Lakes Insurance, an independent insurance agency established in 2009 and located in downtown Woodstock, GA. Jeff is also a founding member and current director of Woodstock Christian Business Network (WCBN), founded in 2016 to reach, connect, encourage and influence Christians to live out their faith in the workplace.
Jeff and his wife, Karen, have lived in Woodstock since 1999. They are members of First Baptist Church Woodstock and have two adult children, Ryan and Ashley. Jeff and Karen have been married for 41 years. When Jeff is not working you can find him walking and running on one of Woodstock’s great trails, leading WCBN or serving and encouraging others in our community.
The best thing about Woodstock according to Jeff? “Woodstock offers ‘community’ to build great personal and business relationships. Everything needed for family, business and recreation can be found in Woodstock.”
You have become one of the leading mentors in the Woodstock community. When did you move here and how did you get involved?
It was a process. I transferred from a corporate position in what is now a museum, Blockbuster Video. I came up in late 1998, my wife joined me in early 1999. I had an office in Smyrna, and we had our sophomore daughter with us. We just wanted something that was wholesome, peaceful, quiet, with quality education. Woodstock was a great fit. This is the longest we’ve been in any one city.
In retail, you want to grow you got to go, so we moved to nine places in eleven years. I was busy in retail and I didn’t need to be connected with a community that much as retail is a demanding type of job. In those days, Blockbuster was open until midnight and I’ve always been engaged. So even though I didn’t have to at my level, I would be known to show up and work the late shift, do the overnight audit. I wanted to lead by example.
At the time, my wife worked for a doctor and he was in the orchestra at First Baptist Woodstock and he invited us to their Christmas pageant. We went and fell in love with it and got involved with First Baptist Woodstock. That began my journey career-wise and otherwise. I’ve always been a friendly guy, it’s the country boy in me, so it’s easy for me to get to know people and for them to get to know me. The trick is getting involved. I made a career change to insurance around 2002.
Tell me about Mountain Lakes Insurance.
I was an Allstate insurance agent, that’s how I got started in the business. My friend called and asked if I would be interested in starting an independent insurance agency. I was interested and we started moving forward. The name Mountain Lakes Insurance was born from the fact that we needed to call it something, I had nothing to do with the name. As of recently, I became the sole owner and I’m excited about that.
I grew up in rural Ohio where there were more cows than people. So we’ve been blessed to evolve with Woodstock. I love the business community feel of downtown Woodstock. I believe everybody has a role to be engaged and to be part of the community.
Share with us how Woodstock Christian Business Network came to be.
I’m in my office sitting at my desk and the phone rings. It was a guy named Nate Wolosiewicz. Nate was changing careers. He used to be a branch manager of a local bank and previously worked for a mortgage company. He wanted to pick my brain about networking locally. We met and as we were talking, I told him I always thought about starting something organically with a faith focus. Then Nate said, “Why don’t we do that?” This came after I went on a mission trip that changed my life, so we started down that road together. That was in early 2016.
Tell us about the mission trip. Where did you go? How did it change your outlook?
Nairobi, Kenya. Going to Africa was an exploratory mission trip. The organization we were supporting is doing great work. They are working to build sustainable community centers in the slums outside the city. From a faith standpoint, it caused me to pay attention to the people.
What you see in the eyes of the people there, if you’re looking, you’ll see when you come home. That changed the trajectory of how I looked at people. Being intentional has created amazing opportunities for me to engage past eye contact. I started to engage people realizing everybody has a need. Even if I’m passing somebody in a hallway, I don’t take it for granted. I often see the loneliness and the desperation and despair, the same as in the eyes that I saw over there, maybe even more so here. Because here you’ve got everything available to you except, in some cases, relationships.
What did the process of growing WCBN look like? What were some challenges you faced?
When I can back, I did a lot of things differently. Where I used my time and influence mattered more to me when I came home. As I was going through that, Nate called. I didn’t have a reason why we wouldn’t start something together, so we began that journey.
I thought I could help Nate with networking, and I would be less involved. I went on vacation and received a call from Nate saying, “I think I found something,” and I told him to check it out. He calls me back and says, “this looks like something I think we could do.” Simple. And simple was good for me. When I came back, we went together and visited the church on E. Piedmont road. There we met an awesome guy who started this in conjunction with the church as an outreach program to connect with businesspeople to generate membership and awareness of the church. His co-pilot was the pastor of the church. We said we wanted to do this, and our friend said, “I’ll help you.” His name is Scott Forrester.
Scott brought members of his group that far outnumbered who Nate and I brought. The first meeting we had between 10- 20 people there, and as we were looking forward to our second meeting, I got a call from one of Scott’s members. Scott had gone to Birmingham and passed away.
The legacy of Scott was not uncovered until then. Everybody that knew Scott said that he was just unbelievable at connecting people and giving. Everybody had their own story about him. When it comes to markers in my life, that’s a big one for me. I decided to use my influence to help others, individuals or organizations.
So, Nate and I decided to move forward, but now the roles were reversed. We became more of the support for that group. In all honesty, Nate did more of the work than I did. Over time, that group migrated more into our group. And we continued that model until it became clear that we were not to be a BNI with a bible there was more of a missional purpose. It was to try and reach, connect, influence, educate businesses asking, “what does faith in the workplace look like?”
When did Lori Baker of Next Step Ministries become involved in WCBN?
We started in June 2016, and I want to say Lori has been with us for a little over three years. She came for the same reasons as a lot of people – to be involved with something that has a faith-focus with no pretense that she was going to promote Next Step. She was consistent in attending, consistent in encouraging. She really encouraged me and that evolved over time.
Where can someone start when it comes to supporting a cause or non-profit such as Next Step?
We try to let everyone know that we all have influence in our community, and it comes out in different ways. The thing for me in all of this is to call attention to others. That’s what we’re trying to do with Next Step. We’re trying to use our influence to call attention to the fact that what they’re doing is necessary. It’s necessary for our families and the community as a whole. Unfortunately, it’s one of the ministries people aren’t as aware of, it is a ministry in the shadows. You probably won’t see many of these families out at the grocery store but it’s my way of emphasizing these ministries are out there because they need to be supported as much as the ones everybody knows about.
Why do you think it is important for the community to understand Next Step?
One, it allows the families who are involved with this to be connected with a part of a community and the community as a whole is stronger because of it. Two, ministries and organizations like this need support. These are non-profits. They don’t exist unless the community is aware of them and have an opportunity to support them.
What was your first experience like with Next Step Ministries?
My first exposure inside the walls of Next Step was through WCBN, just trying to find ways to help. It was around Christmas 2017. Lori suggested she needed help with decorations, so a group of us went and did Christmas decorations. We even had a member dress up and do some storytelling while we put up Christmas decorations. Of course, we were there Saturday interacting with the clients who were unbelievable. When you engage in service you almost always get more out of it than you are giving; my experience has been always. They were so engaging, even the ones who were non-verbal. It made such an impact on me. I was privileged to be there. It was a humbling yet uplifting experience.
Was this your first experience interacting with special needs individuals?
I have a sister who is moderately disabled. When she was young, she had a traumatic brain injury. She’ll be 69 this year. She is the most well-traveled and decorated member of our family. She’s got walls of trophies from the Special Olympics. That heightens my awareness.
When I was living at home with my sister and my parents were separated, my dad raised six kids including my sister. I didn’t really understand what that meant to him, to always make sure someone was always looking after Brenda differently than one of the other kids and how that remained his responsibility even when all of the other kids left. But he did it with such joy. But he didn’t have a Next Step, he was from rural Ohio. Fortunately, he had some good neighbors, which is what Next Step is in a sense. That deepened the connection and from that spawned my desire to do all that I can to call attention to the importance of what they do.
What do you think is a challenge for Next Step Ministries?
Some people don’t engage because they don’t understand. They miss opportunities. I think there should be some type of education for the general population about how to interact with people with disabilities. In fact, that may be something we work on in the future.
Growing up with a moderately challenged sister, my brothers and I were her defenders when she got picked on and she did get picked on. She has severe epilepsy and you don’t know what that’s is until you see it. If people would just take the time to visit Next Step, and you must be intentional to do it, it would do amazing things for our community. It would probably tear down other walls and biases.
We happen to be in a time of history that is unprecedented, and I don’t want to leave this conversation without talking about the effect of it. What you’re seeing as an impact in the community, and any silver linings, at this point?
I see a lot through my faith and church lens, I’ve seen a lot of change, a lot of good change. Through WCBN, I’m seeing a lot of people being connected who otherwise wouldn’t. Many people are taking steps to connect with others that probably would not have done otherwise. Starting with the church, there have been some great changes within the church and church leadership, a younger group of pastors who seem to be more willing to engage with each other across churches. A definition of a community is “common unity.” It’s that unity of let’s find what we can agree on and we’ll work through the other stuff if it even matters. I know we won’t agree on everything.
I just see a lot of things that are happening that are encouraging people to get involved, to be responsible for your part of the community.
Sometimes you’re just a voice that says something to somebody who does have the means. That’s one of my gifts, I just have a big voice, and I’ve gotten over the fear of asking. We get so bound up in fear, feeling like it’s somebody else’s job to do something, I think that fear is being lifted in many areas around Woodstock right now.
What are the ways you think we can get involved while we are isolated? How can we connect to our community when we can’t connect physically?
One of the things in this epidemic we don’t talk about enough is the idea of isolation and loneliness which leads to desperation which leads to what we’re seeing in suicide at the young-adult level. There’s hope and that needs to be communicated at every opportunity.
We need to be intentional and go through our mental Rolodex and get in touch with people. Whether it’s social media or not, I think the main thing is to be a real voice on the other end of the phone to give people encouragement to know they’re not out there alone. That’s what I’ve started to do, and some have done that to me. And you know what? It really felt nice that someone thought enough to call me. Maybe you can be that person for someone else.
What advice would you give a crowd of people?
Be a ripple creator. Where that ripple goes is not your concern. Just be willing to tap the water a little bit. It can be an encouragement to others. Just step out, tap the water, and create your own ripple for the good of others.
Jeff In Community
You can find Jeff involved with First Baptist Church Woodstock, leading a meeting through the Woodstock Christian Business Network, or through his place of business in downtown Woodstock, Mountain Lakes Insurance.