Besa Heroes: A Q&A with Jeni Britton Bauer

Besa is an army of change agents, of difference makers and of superheroes who, one act of impactful kindness at a time, are lifting an entire city. In our Besa Heroes series, we highlight partners in good. Here, we talk with Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which partners with Besa to amplify how Jeni’s gives back. Since partnering with Besa three years ago, associates from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams have worked on 102 projects, contributed 1,200 volunteer hours and made $38,000 in community impact.

Jeni's Video:

Q: You’re among Columbus’ most visible fans. What’s your “Six in the City”—describing Columbus in exactly six words?

A: Columbus: Explore, discover, press forward. Always. Because, you know, Columbus is an explorer… and I always think that that’s our personality.

Q: Why do you see the city like that?

A: Columbus is an extraordinary place to be an explorer. I know quite a few other people—artists and so on—that do that here. I think the idea is that you’re always kind of looking for the next thing. This is a place you can take a risk and try something, tweak it, and keep going forward. Tweak it again, keep going forward. That’s what I’ve done, and I see others doing it, too.

Q: Columbus prides itself on being a vibrant, compassionate city. How have you witnessed that?

A: I have witnessed the giving side of Columbus over so many years in so many ways. When Nina West hosted the Pulse Night Club entertainers, Besa created a book to send around the city, and a lot of people signed this incredible book to give to them. And the whole city came out for the performance and really supported these entertainers, because Nina said, “This is important.” There are just so many people doing so many amazing things here. It’s so inspiring.

Q: Why is giving back important?

A: Power comes from making other people’s lives better. It doesn’t come from places that we think. Even things like money come from making people’s lives better. I think of community as my church. We live here, so you have to get off your chair and help. We have to build the community we want to live in. We have to lift everybody up and do our part.

Q: Through Besa, your team has painted a mural for children at a community center. You’ve grown literally tons of food in community gardens. You’ve supported revitalization efforts on the South Side. And you’ve done many more. Any favorite projects?

A: I loved the day we spent at Hubbard School. First of all, I was so under water at work that day, and I felt like I couldn’t get out. I knew everybody was going to do it and I thought they wouldn’t miss me. And Charly came into my office and said, “I think you should go, because I think it will help you with all the stuff you have to do. Just get away from it.” And I did, and it was the best day ever. And I came back and got everything done, because I was actually more efficient after getting away and gaining power with this team of people. We painted blocks in the gymnasium for the kids to stand in lines for the buses, and we painted the numbers outside of doors. We also cleaned up the schoolyard and did a bunch of stuff. In one day, we did so much. The teamwork—it was just so great.

Q: How has that type of work affected your bottom line?

A: When you give back to your community, and actually just when you are a valuable part of your community—when you’ve created value beyond just the things that you are making—your community supports you. We wouldn’t have gotten off of the ground if it wasn’t for this community. The idea that rising tides raise all ships, I learned that from the North Market. And then of course through all of the ups and downs and trials and tribulations we’ve gone through as a company, we have been supported by our community. We take that very seriously. I’m positive Jeni’s wouldn’t have existed in the first place without support from the community, but it definitely wouldn’t exist now. When you know people and they see a value in the work you’re doing, they will not let you fail. They won’t let you disappear.

Q: How has Besa helped amplify your work within the community?

A: Besa has helped us focus our efforts and made it easier for us to do this work. I think that before Besa, it was us trying to find opportunities. We were finding ways, but we were doing it when we could or when we had the time. It was always kind of last minute. Now it’s very intentional. We feel we can rally a lot of people around something and do something that really makes a difference.

Q: I know Besa’s Adopt A Senior is one of your personal favorite projects…

A: One time, Charly’s senior citizen requested a Drake holiday sweatshirt. And he did all this research and ended up getting this woman a Drake holiday sweatshirt. We were all super jealous, because it was the coolest sweatshirt ever. And we’re sure that she was extremely happy. [laughing]

Q: What do you hear from your team about their Besa experiences?

A: Everybody is super committed to these projects. And I think it’s a testament to how powerful these days are.

Q: How does your team being excited about giving back inspire you?

A: I’m deeply inspired by our community and our teams and working together to accomplish something bigger than we are.