What I Know for Sure — A Tribute to Jane Fiedler

My daughter keeps me fed with good books. She works in publishing and recently came home with a delightful volume by Oprah Winfrey entitled What I Know for Sure. It’s a compilation of monthly columns by the same name that Oprah has written over fourteen years for O Magazine.

In the Introduction, Oprah retells the story of an interview she had with famed Chicago Sun-Times film critic Gene Siskel in 1998. He surprised her in the last moments of the interview by asking her the question “So, what do you know for sure?” Stumped, Oprah told him she needed time to think. And think she did; in fact, her reflection and subsequent realizations have served as the basis for much of her work ever since.

It’s an interesting question. There are those things that I profess to know for sure, the tidbits I toss out at a meeting or with my family about peripherally-important matters. Then there are the things that occur to me when I am alone, the truths that are married to me somehow and seem to spell out a pattern for most of the decisions in my life. They are the things I know for sure.

One of my truths is this: I know for sure that one person can move a mountain.

This is precisely what came to mind this morning, when I learned the terribly sad news of the passing of a good friend of Women United, Jane Fiedler. Many of you knew Jane better than I did, for her reach in Bergen County was extensive. As the director of Women United in Philanthropy, I met Jane in the early days of Zoe’s Place, as she operated without an office, driving around the county with baby clothes and car seats in the back of her car, meeting with young women who desperately needed help and had nowhere to turn. I was astonished that she seemed to be permanently on-call, her own cell phone serving as a life line for girls who’d been turned out of their homes, or were living on the streets—most pregnant, many with young babies in tow.

At that time, and for some years prior, Jane and her compatriots at Zoe’s Place were working every avenue available to secure a piece of property and build a house to give teen moms in Bergen County a place to land and get back on their feet. In the midst of that effort, they struck upon an idea—a grant-worthy idea, as it turns out: to start a social enterprise, a bakery; a cupcake bakery that would generate both funds and recognition for the need for Zoe’s Place, while giving the young girls Jane cared for a place to work and restart their lives.

Of course, Jane and her team made an impassioned plea to Women United in Philanthropy, asking for our support and our confidence. It was a big risk to take on a young organization with a pretty expensive idea. The members of Women United agreed, and in 2008, we awarded Jane and her board a $100,000 start-up grant for Zoe’s Café. For the next six years, Jane and her inseparable colleague Miriam Bloom were bakers, waiters, coffee makers, marketers, buyers, accountants, trainers and small business managers.

Under Jane’s leadership, the Café was born and Zoe’s Place opened a home in Garfield in June, 2011.

Today, teens who need a place to go when they are alone and pregnant have a place, thanks to Jane.

Today, Bergen County no longer turns its back on young women who need help, thanks to Jane.

Jane Fiedler accomplished great change that benefited the lives of so many in the brief few years I knew her. I’m sure she accomplished much more than I know. I recall how proud she was of her children. She showed all of us that it doesn’t take money or fame or extraordinary circumstances to make a difference in the world. Rather, Jane showed us what one person can do, with a commitment to action and a conviction to lead.

I know for sure that one person can move a mountain. I have seen it done.

On behalf of all of the members of Women United in Philanthropy, I offer our heartfelt condolences to Jane’s family, friends and colleagues.

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