Jessica Billings gets a hug after being named Difference Maker of the Year at Thursday’s Difference Makers event at Black River Coliseum.
Nikel Somers describes Jessica Billings as “my hero”.
For Elania Tillman, Billings is very caring and generous, there for anyone in need.
Billings works hard, and now that she’s found her footing, she encourages her two sons to raise money for children in need this Christmas, Elaine Keathley said.
She helps anyone in need, not just at the Current River Sheltered Workshop, where Billings is in charge, but all over the community, Rhonda Reeves said.
More than a dozen community members named Billings, of Doniphan, as a difference maker.
She was named “Making a Difference of the Year 2022” on Thursday at the Daily American Republic’s annual banquet at the Black River Coliseum.
“Our Difference Maker of the Year works with many people to help them change their lives and devotes countless hours to volunteering in (the) community when needed,” said Chris Pruett, publisher. “Adjectives that have been used to describe our Difference Maker of the Year include, ‘hero’, ‘helper’, ‘big heart’, ‘caring’, ‘giving’, ‘loving’ and ‘family’.”
In accepting the award, Billings said whatever happens in life, keep going.
“I know what it’s like to have no food. I know what it’s like not knowing how to pay my electric bill,” she said. “I know what it feels like to want to make ends meet.
“So when I go to work every day, I don’t go to work just to get paid. I’m going to work to give someone hope.
Billings said it was the first time she had told her story publicly.
There was a time when the 34-year-old didn’t see herself as someone who could make a positive difference.
While she had a happy childhood, an abusive relationship later in life and addiction cost her both her children and her freedom for a time.
Billings said trusting her life to God helped her out of that dark place.
“I served three years in the Department of Corrections. And I said to God when I was laying on my concrete bed, ‘You can use me for anything you want me to do,’” Billings said. “I’m out. I have my kids now. And every day I wake up trying to be better than the day before.
She found new purpose when she started working at the Current River Sheltered Workshop in Doniphan three years ago, first in the resale store and finally as a manager.
She rehabilitated and regained custody of her two sons, Jalen and Jaden, now aged 13 and 14.
“I have witnessed his tremendous growth and perseverance,” said his sister-in-law Kerri Billings.
Her sister-in-law worked up to three jobs at times, while working to get her children back, and before finding a place in the sheltered workshop.
“She works with many people with special needs and provides them with a pleasant and safe work environment,” said Kerri Billings. “It warms my heart all she does for them, especially since her nephew, my son, has autism, and one day he may need a place like CRSW.”
She does this while helping the community in any way she can, said Kerri Billings.
“Her life story of coming from the worst place in her life, to now be able to help others, which is why I would like to name her,” she said.
Rhonda Billings said she saw her daughter grow up in ways she never imagined.
“I watched her grow into this young woman who leads others with her heart, mind and soul, and gives herself completely to her work and to the people in the community,” Rhonda Billings said.
The sheltered workshop staff and employees care as much about Billings as they care about his family, according to the nominations.
“Anyone in need, she’s there for them,” Tillman said. “Jessica has so much love to give and she lets her love flow like a river. I’m so glad I worked with Jessica and got to know and love her.
Additional reporting by Editor Misty DeJournett.