Story last updated at 12/19/2012 - 3:02 pm
Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.
A unique combination of wisdom, approachability, freshness and confidence, Jorden Nigro would be a force to reckon with if the word "force" was a little friendlier. See, Nigro, 36, is all that. She's bright - intellectually and in her style and complexion. And she seems to posses this internal barometer of reason, as if you could trust she might give you the best advice for any situation.
Nigro, who now lives in Juneau, grew up in Gustavus, with what she describes as a pretty classic rural Alaskan childhood: playing outside, fishing, collecting toads, kayaking and learning the importance of a wide berth of friends. Though Nigro's high school class of 12 was among the largest in Gustavus' history, she credits the small town for sprouting a strong sense of community engagement, which influences her life and career today.
"Gustavus is a great place to grow up," Nigro said. "The community takes care of each other and supports each other. You learn how to be friends with people of all ages. Even now, as an adult, some of my very dear friends are a generation above me, a generation below, the same age. Growing up in a small community is why I have any sense of community as an adult. It's why I feel strongly about being engaged in your community, whatever that looks like for you. It's different for everybody but I think it's important."
One interesting fact about Nigro is that she spent the first summer of her life living on a floating tent in Goose Cove, where her father was a ranger for the Park Service. She has one younger sister, who now also lives in Juneau.
After graduating high school in 1994, the decision to head out of state for college wasn't difficult for Nigro. She chose Humboldt State University in northern California.
"I chose Humboldt because it was on the ocean, wasn't afraid of the rain and because it seemed like a good community," she said.
Indeed, the town of Arcata, with a population roughly half of Juneau's, was formative in Nigro's development of adult self-awareness and community responsibility.
"I was learning what it meant to be my own member of a community, not a child of a parent who was part of the community," Nigro said.
One example she gave was listening to the local public radio station's pledge drive.
"When they said, 'Now it's time to call and make a donation,'" she said she realized, "They were talking to me."
Nigro said that Arcata was similar to Juneau.
"It was filled with creative, engaged and smart people," she said. "I started to realize, 'This is how a community runs.'"
In Gustavus, Nigro said, she didn't notice the community infrastructure as much; she was young, and by default was more of a blind beneficiary. But once in college, Nigro said, everything started to connect.
"I realized, 'Oh, OK, if I don't do this, who will?' We all have our parts to make a community go," she said. "We all have to pick up a piece."
Nigro found her piece at Juneau Youth Services after graduating with an interdisciplinary degree focusing on photography, politics and community. She moved to Juneau in the spring of 1999, following the lead of a childhood friend who had recently graduated from Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash. She thought she would stay for a summer, and then head off in another direction.
"I guess I got a job I really liked, working with kids at Juneau Youth Services," Nigro said. "I realized that I'm an Alaskan, this is my place."
Nigro worked at JYS for over a decade, the last six years in the capacity as the director of residential services. Nigro moved directly from JYS to SAIL more than three years ago.
Her job selections mirror her personal values.
"It's certainly one of my core values in my life, is being engaged in my community," Nigro said. "That's why I live in Juneau; it's certainly not the weather."
Her office is outfitted with a wooden pet gate, and Rosie Mae, a long-haired Chihuahua with a bit of terrier, sat cuddled into her elbow. Nigro wore a teal sweater, brown leather boots and jeans that showed off her slim figure. Nigro is six-foot tall and lean. She is fairly fashionable, and admitted that you won't likely spot her at the grocery store in her pajamas, and that she thinks every woman should give a tube of red lipstick a fair chance.
Besides Nigro's passion for community involvement, (she's on the board of KTOO public radio), she enjoys spending time with Rosie Mae and Arlo, her miniature pincher, cross country skiing and cooking. She has a food blog, www.rainykitchen.com, where she posts a couple times a week when she has time.
"The reason I decided to do (the blog) is one, I really like to write, and I don't often get to write very creative things," Nigro said. "(And two), a lot of times I've had people ask me for recipes and I realized I'm not a recipe type of person. I'm trying to learn how to do a recipe multiple times and have it turn out consistently."
When asked what people might be surprised to know about her, she texted her husband, Bret Connell, with whom she's been together for almost 10 years. Connell replied it was a tough question, that his wife is quite open. She said it's pretty easy for her to think of her faults, but her positive qualities include reliability and availability - she's always there for friends in need.
As an afterthought, Nigro added that people might be surprised to find out she loves being in her tent.
"I love it," Nigro said. "Especially if I am with my husband and our pups. It just doesn't really get much better. Even if it's pouring outside. Once I am in the dry tent, listening to the rain bounce off of it, I am completely at ease."
Nigro is pretty satisfied with her life.
"I can't imagine doing anything much different than what I do now," she said. "I think (the Juneau community) does a great job when something happens to someone. The recent fire, little fundraisers, people pull together. I also think we have a lot in our community, social service-wise, arts-wise. There's a lot of great nonprofit work happening in this town, I think much of that is the people who work there and much of that is the people who support it. You don't have to be working in the field; it's just being engaged. Including knowing who your neighbors are and saying hello to them."
Amanda Compton is the staff writer at the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.