Jackie Zimmerman is Changing Lives with Girls With GutsBy Yvelette Stines on January 28th, 2016 /
There are reasons for everything even if the outlook doesn’t look bright at the time. It takes a strong courageous person with bravery and vision to create change for themselves and the community around them. It was in 2006 when Jackie Zimmerman, Executive Director and Founder of Girls With Guts, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I was 23-years-old and it was my first dive understanding what it was like to be chronically ill,” she says. As an eye opening experience, three years later she was faced with another diagnosis that would change her life and the lives of others.
It was 2009, Zimmerman was working at a coffee shop in Ann Arbor.
“I was their one woman corporate office, I got very sick and landed myself in the hospital,” she says. At this time Zimmerman was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She had symptoms but didn’t tell anyone due to the embarrassment that it would cause. When she was in the hospital, her parents found out, and she wanted them to keep it a secret as well.
“I had to come to terms and stop hiding my diagnoses when the surgeries started. Things became really serious,” she said. “I was set up for a three sequence surgery over nine months which turned into a six sequence surgery over fifteen months.”
It was at this time Zimmerman started her personal blog called Blood Poop Tears. Zimmerman and the other bloggers connected online, decided to meet one another and plan a weekend to hangout and advocate.
“We met up in Chicago in April of 2013. We wore t-shirts in the streets of Chicago that stated ‘ask me about my Crohn’s Disease and ask me about my J-pouch.’” The response from strangers was positive. “We had a powerful statement and we blogged, tweeted, and shared on other social media outlets,” she reminisces.
The bloggers and new friends were having a blast in Chicago, people were asking about the next meetup.
“It was an empowering weekend for us and others because people were taking notice. I saw a bigger need. The internet is a great way for people to connect and feel less alone, but we are still behind our screens. This is great for people who can’t leave the bathroom, but for those who want meet others and get out, that is when the magic happens. You can strike up a conversation with anyone and it feels as if you have known them your whole life,” she says.
With the momentum and unforgettable weekend in Chicago, Zimmerman knew that she had to create a bigger movement and Girls With Guts was born. The non-profit helps to establish a national support network that will aid women with at different stages with Inflammatory Bowel Disease in their search for community and acceptance. The organization is in the process of planning their fourth retreat that will take place in Pennsylvania.
“We move it around the country to hit a different demographic s of people for those who can’t travel far,” says Zimmerman.
Although Zimmerman travels with her retreats, she is happy to have her non-profit based in Michigan. “I was born and raised here, my parents are entrepreneurs and that has been a way of life for me. It was instilled in us as kids to be your own boss.”
If you want to take the leap into entrepreneurship, Zimmerman has some advice. “Get a mentor and have the guts to go for it. Your plan might not be fully thought out but have the faith that it will figure itself out. Even if it doesn’t work at least you tried. Most people will not even try in the first place,” she encourages.
Zimmerman found her calling and is honored to help others “When listening to the ways our clients talk about how Girls With Guts changed their lives, I am moved. They coined it a sisterhood, we never used that term. I am not a mom, but it makes me feel like I am a mom of ten thousand women. The dream I had for our clients has been accomplished. Their lives are richer and they feel supported because of Girls With Guts.”
For more information visit www.girlswithguts.org.