Women Leading Philanthropy for a Greater New Orleans

As the Junior League of New Orleans inspires the next generation of women leaders, “Women Leading for a Greater New Orleans” has been adopted as the new slogan for JLNO. To illustrate this ongoing tradition of empowering women leaders, Lagniappe looks forward to highlighting female changemakers making an impact across industries, throughout Greater New Orleans. As we celebrate our 95th Anniversary, the following testimonies from women educators within the JLNO network provide powerful insights into the strength of our League leaders, as well as the ripple effect these women have in our community.



Photos by: Jessica Bachmann

Jessie Schott Haynes, Esq.

Managing Director, The Helis Foundation

How have you gotten to where you are today?
My career path has certainly been unusual in some ways, and I am always happy to share my journey, which I maintain is still ongoing! I am always quick to offer my experience with others as they navigate the stress and all-encompassing nature of career changes. I don’t think it is as much about reinvention as it is the culmination of varying skill sets ultimately coalescing. I truly believe that you always come back to your original passions, particularly in ways you least expect. Making the pivot from the private sector to the non-profit sector and then back to the private sector has been a wild ride, and I wouldn’t change any of it, despite the stress associated with those changes over the years.
I graduated from Tulane with Art History and English degrees and decided to go to law school at Loyola University College of Law, after unfortunately deciding not to stick with my most favorite job, which was an ongoing paid internship at NOMA. After law school, I clerked for Judge Madeleine Landrieu in Civil District Court and began practicing at Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins, Burr and Smith, APLC. I truly enjoyed my law firm colleagues but realized I wanted to gain non-profit management experience and either work back in the arts or use my law degree in the public policy field. I was delighted to become the Program Director at Louisiana Appleseed, working on impactful pro bono policy projects with fellow Junior League Sustainer, Christy Kane. Here, I was exposed to an entire world of non-profit and volunteer management, board governance, and development and grant-making.
I remained heavily invested in the arts community as a patron and volunteer. When the opportunity to serve as the first Managing Director of The Helis Foundation became available, I was excited for the new challenges ahead. My position at The Helis Foundation has provided me with a multitude of new experiences and constant challenges. I am honored to blend my professional aptitude and volunteer skills — so many gained from my Junior League time — in this endlessly enriching position. I am always learning and continually grateful for the time I am spending with the Foundation. It is exciting to combine all my acquired skills into my work each day, while hopefully making an impact in the New Orleans community.

What is your best advice for other women looking to succeed in their own industries?
I suggest exercising deep thought, evaluation and patience. I honestly believe patience and stamina are things we collectively overlook in our current climate of immediacy and quick gratification. I wouldn’t be in my current position with The Helis Foundation if I had not stuck with practicing law at one firm, giving it my loyalty, and then thoughtfully moving to the non-profit sector (by design) and remaining in those roles for many years. It is tempting to chase the bright shiny things with fast and easy returns, but real value, I think, is created in demonstrating loyalty, tenacity and the ability to walk away from a position with a real body of work and authentic relationships intact. I really believe in putting your head down, working hard and staying the course. People notice that loyalty, reliability and strength of relationships, and that means something now more than ever!

How has Junior League benefited you in your success?
I am not the first person to say that Junior League has given me so much more than I could ever give it in return. I learned how to be a contributing board member and organizational leader in my professional life due to my experiences in my active League years. Not a day goes by when I don’t reference something I learned from Junior League — from communications strategies, to governance, to strategic planning, to grant making. I hope I can repay the gifts the Junior League has bestowed upon me. Oh, and did I mention I was completely unprepared for the embarrassment of riches in friends and business contacts, all made 100% because of the Junior League? It sounds trite, but it’s true. I even gained a goddaughter because of the Junior League.


Maria Pardo Huete

Director of Institutional Advancement, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans

How have you gotten to where you are today?
There are three things that have been drivers for me: forward momentum, curiosity and responsibility. The motto of my family was always, “Move forward, not backward.” Each generation improves upon the previous one in terms of education and opportunities. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I have always been overly curious about everything. I would take apart radios, sewing machines, etc. to see how they functioned. Curiosity can become opportunity, and I was taught to never squander an opportunity to learn something new. The only thing that should affect learning is lack of willingness. I want to be 88 and still be able to say, “Square dancing? Show me how!” Being the first child of immigrant parents forced me to be the interpreter, administrator and community liaison between my family and the world at a very early age. There were times that were very uncomfortable for me as a child, but I felt I had to get through to ensure no one in my family would suffer. A particularly contentious discussion with a BellSouth representative when I was nine or 10 sticks out in my mind. This last bit I think is what prepared me for Junior League President best.

What is your best advice for other women looking to succeed in their own industries?
My best advice for women is to know yourself. Nurture your strengths and use them, acknowledge your weaknesses and mitigate them, know what drives you and dangle your own carrots. Judge yourself not against anyone else, but only against what you see as the best version of yourself. Burn no bridges, but don’t be anyone’s fool.

How has Junior League benefited you in your success?
The Junior League gave my curiosity and desire to learn free rein. I am a self-acknowledged JL nerd and soaked it all up. I was fascinated with the premise that even as fully developed adults, we could engage in civic training on how to meet the needs of our community. I was excited to be exposed to different experiences and learning opportunities throughout my active years in the League. Even the bad times I experienced taught me something about the pitfalls of leadership and how to correct it for success.


Shon Cowan Baker, PhD

Vice President, Major and Planned Gifts, Department of Philanthropy, Ochsner Health System

How have you gotten to where you are today?
I am thankful to have been raised by a community of women who told me I could be anything I wanted and that my possibilities were endless — and I believed them! I was taught to see possibilities, to never give up and to practice gratitude. In seeing possibilities, I am constantly creating visions for the future. I have never accepted there is anyone or anything that can stand in my way, and I believe breakthroughs and expansion happen when you choose to break the mold and try new things. Gratitude has been perhaps the most important attribute to my success. There’s a sound stability that exists when you can appreciate the importance of things in your life.
I feel so fortunate to work for an organization like Ochsner that so closely aligns with my own beliefs. Ochsner is relentless in its pursuit of bettering the lives of our neighbors. It is an organization that maintains a strong vision for the future of healthcare in our region and across the nation. I’m grateful I can join them in this journey. It is an amazing organization and one that I am tremendously proud of.

What is your best advice for other women looking to succeed in their own industries?
Decide what you want for yourself. Be specific and be focused. Be a student of your business — understand it from all angles. Strive to learn more about the position than just what your job requires. Make your aspirations known. Ask for feedback, be open to feedback, and do something with that feedback. And above all: nevertheless, persist.

How has Junior League benefited you in your success?
I joined the Junior League 10 years ago hoping to meet other women who cared about New Orleans just as much as I did, and I hoped I would make friends by joining. My expectations have been vastly exceeded as I have gained so much more from being a member than I could have ever imagined! I’ve participated in transformative opportunities to serve the community, and I’ve built lifelong friendships. I’ve gained role models who challenged me to grow and mentors who continue to help guide my journey. As I prepare to become a Sustainer, I reflect on how truly grateful I am to have had the opportunity to serve this League and to make my mark on its future!