Jill Karp lives a life filled with purpose, love and adventure. “I’m never fearful of what’s next,” Jill explains. “I’m more excited about what comes next and I feel strongly that until you close one door, it’s really hard to wholeheartedly open another. Change doesn’t bother me.” It is no wonder then that this resilient wife, mother, entrepreneur and world traveler has embraced the transitions in her life during the past couple of years, trading ballet recitals for squatting in Third World huts.
What motivates Jill to create this kind of impact on others and give back in such a deeply committed way?
From principal dancer to premier dance studio owner
Lithe and lovely, Jill Karp moved to Boston to follow her man. Her dream to become a professional dancer was dashed by a knee injury. After learning about her physical limitation, Jill chose to build her own dance studio. Dancer’s Workshop rapidly became a successful enterprise.
Swimming and mindfulness exercises are part of her daily routine, despite juggling her family (three sons and husband), dance studio, home, relationships and volunteering for local schools and charities such as the Children’s Hospital League.
An optimist by nature, Jill seems to weather storms with an ease most of us need to cultivate. Her mother received the cruel diagnosis of sinus cancer right after Jill married. Twenty years and eleven surgeries later Jill’s mother succumbed to this unforgiving disease. Until her death, Jill escorted her mother on travel adventures so her mom could see the world. She carefully planned these travel experiences around the needs of her family and dance studio.
Jill’s love for exploring the world began at age 16 with a summer in Israel. “I always had a sense of adventure,” she says. A few years later Jill spent two semesters studying dance in London and traveled extensively.
At the same time, participating in charitable endeavors was a fundamental core value. With her mother as a role model who took part in community- oriented philanthropy, Jill became involved with the Make a Wish Foundation and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in college.
“It feels like it is my purpose when I help someone else. That’s where I belong,” Jill says. “It’s always been a part of my life. I have my kids and family and my job and then I always have to have something to anchor me.”
When Jill began looking for new philanthropic endeavors, she wanted something hands-on. She enjoys the “raw, physical piece” of volunteering, especially in Third World settings. “I get as much from changing five people’s lives as 500.”
Missions to an Orphanage in India and Ethiopia with Mercy Corps
Shortly after the death of her best friend Jean, Jill decided to sell her dance studio to move on to the next phase of her life. For the first time in her life Jill was able to devote more time to pursuits outside of the care of her family, home and work. Her boys were growing up: Ben, the eldest, went on to college and Sam and Daniel were following close behind.
Jill decided to take a yearlong sabbatical. Her passion for travel, adventure and philanthropic endeavors flourished after a succession of losses. She began volunteering for Mercy Corps and went to Ethiopia to work with impoverished women and children. Jill balanced this and other missions with the needs of her own boys.
The experience with Mercy Corps resonated deeply with Jill because, as she put it, “It’s not about dumping food in an under served part of the world. It’s about responsible and sustainable change. Teaching people to grow crops so they can feed themselves, helping them to build schools so they can educate themselves. It’s creating lasting change.”
Fascinated by Indian culture Jill decided next to spend some time at the Premavasam orphanage in Chennai working with disabled children. Here Jill witnessed devastating poverty, and children abandoned by their mothers or left to die in the streets.
Jill described children eating a single meal a day and their only hope resting on their ability to get an education. The filthy orphanage lacked resources to a degree that is hard to fully comprehend in our culture. By choosing to sponsor 20 children in the orphanage, Jill has ensured that they will receive decent housing, food and an education. She advocates tirelessly for these children.
One of the many letters Jill received from Kavitha, a young girl she sponsors:
I am fine, I hope you also fine! I am happy to write this letter. I am studying 10th standard at St. Ann’s Matriculation.Hr. secondary school. I go to the school by bicylcle everyday. Now we started to study 10th Standard subjects. I like that very much. I am going to write the annual examination in 15th of March. It will go till March 23rd. I have sent my report card to you. In our quarterly holidays we went to Velankanni Church and last month we went to watch a movie. We enjoyed the movie. We celebrated Republic Day on January 26th. In our home here we conducted some competitions. I participated in Dance, Running Race and poetry competitions. I got first prize in Running Race and Dance. Second prize in poetry.
Now we shifted our room in our home. It is very large and I feel comfortable and I am happy being with my friends. I am very thankful to you for your love and help towards my studies. I thank you for your love and concern towards me. I pray to God for your good health and welfare. Please pray for us.
When asked what drives Jill to pursue these missions, she believes that children are the hope of the future. She also loves traveling to other cultures and working in the heart of raw circumstances. “I come home and feel so blessed with my own family. I am fortunate to live a full life and be able to give back.”
Interestingly Jill is never apprehensive when she moves on to the next philanthropic travel adventure. She loves the excitement of the unknown and derives great happiness from these experiences.
“My family has learned to support me in these endeavors. They know “that when mommy’s happy, everyone is happy. I also want to set an example for my kids, so they know how important it is to always give back and see the bigger picture.”
A Life Filled with New Pursuits and Philanthropic Endeavors
Jill continues to pursue these and other missions from her home base. She recently started a business in the Boston area called LESS, a business devoted to organizing, restructuring and energizing homes for people in transition. “I only take a single client at a time. I love being part of a person’s transformation.” Changing one life at a time – whether here in Boston or in Ethiopia or India – Jill takes her mission to help others with her wherever she goes.
Jill makes life decisions based on her heart. “I’m deeply committed to creating a life that fulfills me and makes a difference.” She manages to build rituals into her day that support her mentally and physically regardless of her schedule.
One of those women that make many of us wonder, ‘How does she manage it all?‘ Jill goes about her day with a certain grace and lightness. She assumes a leadership role that embraces others who want to work beside her and learn from her.
She helped establish the Wayland Angels several years ago, an agency that helps families in crisis in her local community, and continues to stay involved. In addition Jill serves on the allocation committee for community service planning for Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
Jill recently agreed to participate in Women2Women, a workshop through Empower Peace in which young women from around the globe come together at Lesley College to learn the skills of negotiation. The idea behind the program is for women who plan careers in government to learn how to express themselves authentically and listen deeply to one another so they can better understand each other’s perspectives.
When asked what the driving force is behind her boundless energy and philanthropic endeavors, Jill says, “I don’t think there’s anything better that you can do in this world than bring light wherever you go. Every day I think how I can make today really matter.”