Jennifer Hobson is passionate about many things: her family, her community, her pets, the game of tennis.
She is also devoted to pouring that positive energy into volunteer work, which led her to the Regional One Health Foundation, where she is currently working with co-chair Suzana Lightman to plan the ONE Night fundraising gala. This year’s gala, the Foundation’s primary fundraiser, is Saturday, April 13 at 6 p.m. at Memphis Cook Convention Center. R&B legends and Grammy winners Chaka Khan and Billy Ocean will entertain guests on a night of powerful philanthropy.
“I love Memphis, and I’m proud of Memphis – and Regional One Health is a growing, inclusive, necessary part of Memphis that’s filling a lot of gaps,” she said, citing the healthcare system’s Centers of Excellence in trauma, burn, NICU and high-risk obstetrics plus its growing primary care and preventative care services downtown and at the Quince Road East Campus.
It was at the Sheldon B. Korones Center NICU where Hobson, who runs Hobson Realtors with husband Joel, was introduced to Regional One Health. She toured the facility as a March of Dimes volunteer, an organization she and Joel got involved with after losing their daughter, Jane, as an infant.
Jane and her twin brother Joel were born at 28 weeks, and Jane became ill with necrotizing enterocolitis. She passed away at two weeks old. “It was terrible,” Jennifer said. “They had been perfectly healthy; they were just small.”
Jennifer turned that tragedy into a mission to help other moms and babies.
Jane had not been treated at the Regional One Health NICU because all the beds were full at the time, and that, along with the inspirational work Jennifer witnessed on her tour, sparked a desire to help expand the facility. “Unfortunately, the premature birthrate in Memphis is still very high,” she said. “The fact that there was no room for Jane shows you there is a need. I want more women to have access, because I feel like if you come to Regional One Health, they’ll save you.”
As she got involved with Regional One Health, her appreciation for its role in providing lifesaving care for the community deepened – especially as other aspects of her volunteer work provided a window into the struggles many Memphis families face.
Hobson had started taking her sons – Joel, now 11, and Graydon, 8 – to volunteer at Hanley Elementary in Orange Mound. There, they met children living with the agony of poverty – for some, the only meal they would eat each day is the one they got at school.
It hit home for all of them.
“You have to look it in the eye before you can understand it,” Hobson said. “My heart really is in that community, and Regional One Health takes care of the people there. So many people in Memphis don’t have access to healthcare – the emergency room is their healthcare – and I love Regional One Health because they serve the underserved. They don’t turn anybody away.”
She pointed to ONE Health, which works with super-utilizers to provide healthcare and address related needs like hunger, homelessness, etc.
Hobson speaks as someone who unabashedly loves her hometown and has built her career on sharing that with people looking to move to the city. “Memphis has a lot of good going on – companies like FedEx and International Paper, the Grizzlies and Tigers to get behind – but Memphis to me is really about the people. I don’t think you meet a stranger. Everybody is warm, welcoming and ready to serve you a good plate of food!” she said.
“Memphis has soul, and when you leave it, you feel it.”
Hobson has met her perfect volunteering match with ONE Night, which she said “feels like Memphis” with its diverse crowd, upbeat music and inclusive atmosphere. From the work-of-art invitations to gorgeous décor to stellar entertainment, “We try to give our guests an experience – not just a show, an experience.”
This year’s ONE Night will include not only the incredible performances by Kahn and Ocean – “It’s going to be mind-blowing having them in our ballroom in our city for our party,” Hobson says – but interactive stations to keep guests engaged.
It takes a lot of planning, but as Hobson notes, “I’m better busy!”
A lifelong animal lover, she’s opened her home to three dogs, a pair of umbrella cockatoos and an African tortoise named El Chapo.
She’s an avid reader – the humorous travel and nonfiction books of Bill Bryson are a current favorite – and loves to hit the tennis court. “I play tennis like it’s my job,” she laughed. “That’s my sanity.”
Finding time between work and family life to support causes she admires is well worth it, Hobson added. She’s excited to raise funds to expand ONE Health by adding more case workers and to support the life-saving work of Regional One Health Centers of Excellence at the NICU, Elvis Presley Trauma Center, High-Risk Obstetrics Unit and Firefighters Burn Center.
“It’s rewarding because it’s serving a purpose and spreading awareness that we need a bigger NICU, we need to attract top residents and surgeons, we need state-of-the-art equipment,” Hobson said. “We need all of those things because Regional One Health saves lives. And what’s more important than saving someone’s life?”