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Ryemarkable Jenna Lee Russo

Wife, Mother, Emmy Award Winning Storyteller, Disney Fanatic & Forever Cheerleader

Director of Content, Food Bank For New York City

Jenna is married to longtime Rye resident Richard Giacovas (who happens to be her best friend). Richard is a reporter with WNYW-TV in New York City. The two reside in Rye with their children, Aria (8) and Jesse (1) and are active at Resurrection Parish. Where did you start your journey?

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with watching 2020 with Barbara Walters and The Oprah Winfrey Show. I loved a good interview. I was fascinated by people and their stories. You could say, I was born with a natural curiosity and a need to be "in the know." I was chatty and asked a lot of questions - at least that's what my report cards said. When I went to college, I quickly figured out that I wanted to go into broadcast journalism, and at just 19 years old, then News Director Janine Rose gave me an internship at News 12 Westchester. (We are still dear friends 20 years later!) I interned two to three nights a week for free, FOR THREE YEARS. I loved it and I was hired as the 10pm producer just a few weeks before even graduating college. I rose from star intern to producer to a senior producer in just a few short years. I held a front row seat in the control room for some of our generation’s most historic, breaking news like The Miracle on the Hudson, the election of President Barack Obama, Hurricane Sandy and so much more. The news became a huge part of who I was. I guess you can say it defined me. I was As Local As Local News Gets. I had a star paper weight on my desk that said so.

After 12 years at News 12, I decided to give up my career in news to spend more time with my daughter. Aria was one at the time. It was probably one of the toughest decisions I ever made in my life. A part of me felt like I gave up everything I worked so hard for including a shot at my dream job - WABC-TV Channel 7 Eyewitness News. I was a super fan! When I said goodbye to my News 12 family, I felt lost and at times depressed. What was my purpose? I felt like I was having an identity crisis.

I did some freelance PR work and spent almost a year at home with my daughter. No more working early mornings, nights, and weekends. No more spending Thanksgiving and Christmas in a cubicle away from my family. TALK ABOUT LONELY. Finally, I had control over my life. That part was nice, I'm not going to lie. Then almost a year after giving up news, I was on the couch with my hair in a bun and a sleeping baby on my lap, when the phone rang. It was a former News 12 coworker, CeFaan Kim, who went on to be a reporter at WABC-TV. He told me they were looking for a good producer and that he recommended me for a job. He knew it was my dream. I was thinking, GREAT TIMING - NOT. I had interviewed there at the station twice before, and didn't make it. After careful thought and consideration, I decided I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. It really was my dream. In the news business, working at WABC is like making it to the Super Bowl. I worked so hard for this. I interviewed (they joked about me being a Channel 7 stalker!) and finally landed my dream job as a writer and producer at the number one news station in America. The best part? They allowed me to work 3-4 days a week so I could have some extra time with my daughter. Despite that, came another giant wave of MOMMY GUILT. If I thought news was hard before, IT GOT HARDER. WABC was no joke. They were the best. I had to keep up. I was working alongside legends - the best anchors and reporters in the country. I had to work hard and fast, and between that and mom life, losing hours of my life commuting back and forth to NYC, I was completely exhausted. About a year in, I had made a hard personal decision that I was going to chase happiness and decided I wanted a divorce. I was married in my 20s. MORE GUILT. MORE STRESS. My life changed in what felt like an instant. My daughter was about to turn three and now I had this intense job. My family was so angry with me and barely spoke to me for a year. My ex-husband was hurt. My former in-laws were hurt and they were my childcare. It was all MY FAULT. Overwhelmed wasn't the word. Most days it felt like I was having a heart attack. The intense stress of work and pressure of being in the news and the emotional toll of a divorce became too much. And forget the financial part! Suddenly, I spent my days staring at my checking account. I remember one morning my daughter wanted a bagel before school and I'll never forget how it felt to go into her piggy bank and take out $3 to be able to buy one. I'll never forget the kindness of a former colleague of mine at WABC who was helping me through my divorce. I remember asking her some financial questions. I guess she sensed my stress and that's when I saw her reach for her bag and pull out her wallet. I'll never forget seeing her pull out all the cash she had in there. I think it was about $285. She folded it up and put it in my hand. She said, "This is all I have on me, but please put it towards your daughter's dance class." I was like, oh no! This wasn't why I was talking to her about money. MORTIFYING. She insisted I take it. I put on a good face, smiled and thanked her before walking back to my desk fighting tears. I failed. I was a loser. Little did she know, I had nothing left in the bank, and as sad as it was, I really needed that money. I became close with several wonderful people during my time at WABC. I remember having conversations with some about how hard and stressful it all was. Suddenly, surprise gift cards would appear on my desk to places like Whole Foods. No name, no note. No one would admit to putting them there. My former coworkers were angels. These were such good people. I wouldn't have survived this time of my life without them. I spent almost three years at Eyewitness News before I just couldn't do it anymore. It was time to find less stressful and more flexible work - this time for good. I had to for my mental health. After 15 years, it was time to reinvent myself. When looking for a more fulfilling, mission-driven career, I knew I could bring my passion wherever I went. I still wanted to tell important and compelling stories – just in a different space – but still have the same or greater impact. That's when I got an email from another former reporter, Catherine Cioffi, who now works for County Executive George Latimer. Catherine said Feeding Westchester was looking for a PR person. Food banking?! What was that? Yes it's actually a thing.

Where are you now? I'll never forget my interview at Feeding Westchester. I was meeting with a guy named Matt Honeycutt. He was tall, VERY TALL. Like 6'5" tall. I remember him so passionately explaining what food banking was. He said something about taking the shame out of asking for help and he starting to tell me stories. He rattled off a list and then ended with, "... And single moms who are struggling to make ends meet, living in wealthy communities, they don't want to ask for help. They have to keep up with a lifestyle and they don't want anyone to know." I knew exactly what Matt was talking about, because I WAS LIVING IT. Not to the extreme where I couldn't afford food, but if I wasn't leaning on credit cards, I could have easily been the mothers I meet on our lines. Matt saved my life that day and helped me figure out what I believe I was born to do - to bring out the beautiful in people and tell stories for good. I fell in love with food banking. I joined Feeding Westchester as their Director of Public Relations. That’s the path many recovering journalists take after leaving news. I had about six months of PR experience. Thank goodness Matt was crazy because I'm not even sure I knew what I was doing. Soon after, the pandemic hit, and millions of people across the country learned a lot about food banks and turned to them for help for the first time. Food bankers quickly became first responders. I used my relationships in news to help the organization meet the moment COVID hit New York head on. My work led to more than 400% growth and put our little food bank in Westchester on a national stage. I also produced a series of videos for Feeding America in an effort to help its 200+ member food banks raise money around the country. My last project was Feeding Westchester’s first-ever televised COVID-19 fundraiser on News 12, featuring the likes of Disney’s Alan Menken, Chazz Palminteri, Vanessa Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Paul Shaffer. I was soon after blessed with the opportunity to join Matt and President & CEO Leslie Gordon for another amazing opportunity - to tell stories of hardship, hope and heroes at Food Bank For New York City – one of the largest food banks in America and the world. I now have the honor and privilege to tell compelling stories to raise awareness and funds for our neighbors in need. I get to walk the streets of New York City and visit soup kitchens and food pantries and tell some amazing stories of very brave people. They are moms and dads and seniors, who sometimes work not one job, but two jobs and three jobs just to make ends meet. I work hard to change the narrative of what it is to be hungry and what hunger looks like. I somehow get complete strangers to share their most intimate stories of struggle with someone they just met. I guess I can thank Barbara and Oprah for that skill. We laugh together and we cry together. And their stories help others. I've told hundreds of stories and it fills my soul. Ironically, I had been nominated for several New York Emmy Awards during my news career, but never won a single one. It was at Food Bank For New York City that I would win my first. Where do you hope to go in the future?

Food banking is my forever love! This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I hope to continue to tell stories that show the impact of food banks and their supporters. Would you share your tips for moms who are looking to reinvent themselves?

For moms looking to reinvent themselves – think about what you love, what you’re passionate about, what skills you have, and the solid relationships you've made throughout your career. Make lists. Do some soul searching. What have others in your field successfully moved on to? It’s all about RELATIONSHIPS for me! Every single opportunity giving to me thus far, has been because of a relationship. Talk to your mentors. I have been blessed in my life with so many wonderful opportunities thanks to lifelong friends continuing to lift me higher. I have spent my career paying it forward, doing the same for others. Also, remember to be kind and leave a little sparkle wherever you go.

You can find Jenna:

If you're inspired by stories of reinvention and transformation like this one, then you won't want to miss out on the exclusive content and resources available on my membership platform, "Learning With Liz Woods!" From insightful interviews with industry experts to practical tips for personal growth, there's something for everyone. Check it all out at

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