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Inspiring Everyday: How a chance encounter changed a co-worker’s life

Nobody knows the pulse of Ascend’s Chocolate Bayou plant better than Jennifer Harrison, who knows every plant team member – all 900 plus – by name. 

She is the first person most visitors and many team members see when they enter the plant. Each day she welcomes them with the same friendly smile and pleasant disposition.

As the plant’s senior administrative assistant, Harrison is the plant manager’s right hand, working closely with site leadership. She also is actively involved with all site teams, helping to improve team member engagement and overall plant morale.

Harrison is committed to making Chocolate Bayou a great place to work. She willingly assumes responsibilities outside of her job role – often juggling many tasks at once – because she cares about the company and the Chocolate Bayou team.

When team members have questions, they turn to her for the answers.  Whether it’s about payroll, employee benefits or where to buy a cake for a team member’s work anniversary, she usually has the answers. If she doesn’t, she will go out of her way to find them.

 “I enjoy coming to work because it’s like being with family,” Harrison said. “To me, that means a lot. But I also enjoy what I do. If I can help someone along the way, I’m more than happy to do so.”

In addition to her administrative duties, Harrison supports human resources with onboarding new team members and helps with payroll. She also serves on the site community relations team, organizes all site events, including the annual barbecue fundraiser for the local chamber of commerce, and coordinates activities for plant visitors.

She represents the company in the community, serving on the local YMCA Board of Directors and the Community Advisory Panel. She is a member of the plant’s United Way campaign as well.

Plant manager Paul Cartlidge acknowledges that Harrison makes his job easier because of all that she does.  He admires her leadership and tenacity.  

“She leads by example. She knows how to get things done and can get things done, and she always does it with a smile on her face,” Cartlidge said. “She’s a true leader.”

Many team members refer to Harrison as the plant’s den mother. She is always there to help and give wise counsel. She works hard to encourage, support and unite team members in any way she can.

Last year, an unexpected encounter with a new team member at an office supply store led to Harrison helping the team member and his family through a difficult situation. During their conversation in the parking lot, the team member mentioned that his youngest child needed surgery. The toddler had already undergone several surgeries and the medical bills were straining the family’s budget, he said.

Harrison told him about the Ascend Cares Foundation and how it provides financial assistance for team members facing hardships. She urged him to come by her office for more information.

 “I met his wife and four children,” Harrison said. “Being a mom, I couldn’t help but think about them.”

The team member visited Harrison about a week later. He listened while she explained how the foundation works, but declined to apply for assistance. Harrison suggested he take the information home and share it with his wife.

A few days later, he submitted the application and eventually received help from the foundation. The family was able to pay down their medical bills. 

“I could steer him in the right direction, but he had to take that step,” Harrison said. “I’m glad that he finally did. He was able to return to work a safer team member because he didn’t have to worry about his financial situation.”