Hometown: Mon Louis Island, Ala
- BS, political science and government, Spring Hill College, 1980
Selected work history
- President, AARP Foundation, 2010-2013
- Library of Congress
- COO, 2007-2010
- Senior Adviser and Chief of Staff, 1994-2007
- Director of Office of Advocacy and Enterprise, Agriculture Department, 1990-1993
- Partner, Quality Management Services, 1987-1990
- Special Assistant to the Secretary, Transportation Department, 1985-1987
- Executive Assistant, Housing and Urban Development Department, 1981-1985
- Voter Outreach, Ronald Reagan campaign, 1980
Jo Ann Jenkins isn’t just the CEO of AARP, the nation’s largest interest group for seniors and retirees; she’s the public face of the organization, appearing in several online and television ads. It’s a long way from a small island off the Alabama coast.
But even then, it seemed that big things were ahead. Jenkins was elected student-council president of her historically-white public high school. Politics suited her. During her studies at Spring Hill College in Mobile, she interned for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Then, after graduating, she went to work on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. That led to a whirlwind 12 years in Washington working in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, at the Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Transportation departments. It was at Transportation under Secretary Elizabeth Dole that she created a program to promote women in the department.
Jenkins continued government service during the Clinton administration, serving as chief of staff at the Library of Congress, ultimately being promoted to chief operating officer. She helped launch the National Book Festival with first lady Laura Bush and pushed to digitize important works like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. She also pushed the Library of Congress into the digital age, helping lead the creation of the “Library of Congress Experience,” an interactive pathway that offers digital access to the Library’s collections.
She came to AARP in 2010 as the head of its foundation, increasing its donor base from 800,000 to 2 million in three years. That led to her promotion to AARP’s top job three years later. In that role, Jenkins has pushed to combat ageism in marketing, educate seniors about fraud, and reduce the number of older adults going hungry.
Under her leadership, the organization started to focus on serving low-income, vulnerable people. For instance, Jenkins helped create the Drive to End Hunger, a multiyear, nationwide campaign that has donated more than 36 million meals to local organizations serving seniors and provides additional support to more than 100 anti-hunger organizations.
Of course, AARP looks to protect Medicare and Social Security. The association bucked the political tide in 2017, opposing the Trump tax bill on the grounds that it would increase the deficit, potentially leading to cuts in spending that could include Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs that serve older Americans. Jenkins has pushed for lower drug prices and championed legislation that supports family caregivers.
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