There’s a charming four-bedroom Craftsman styled bungalow near Davidson College, which is inhabited by some happy folks who love the area as much as they do their home.
Jenni Gaisbauer, a yoga lover who makes a really good dirty martini is one of them. Originally from Minnesota, she’s also a former Plus Collective Chairperson who has lived in the Carolinas for over two decades, serving Charlotte and surrounding area residents in multiple capacities.
During this interview we learned some interesting things about Gaisbauer and gained greater insight on what philanthropy looks like within the LGBTQ community of the Carolinas.
L’Monique King: What brought you all the way from Minnesota to the Carolinas?
Jenni Gaisbauer: My parents did. During my first two years of college, my parents relocated to Cary, North Carolina for a change in weather and life. When I graduated from University of Montana with my Psychology degree, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so, I moved to Raleigh and went to grad school. After graduating from Ohio State University [with a Master’s degree], I moved to Charlotte. I wanted to be close to my parents, but not on top of them. I’ve been in the area for about 23 years now and have probably been in Charlotte for about 15 of those.
LMK: Who are the people who make up your nuclear family? Are you partnered?
JG: I am. I have been with my wife for 12 years and married for almost six. I’ve grown a lot and I’m learning a lot. It’s good. It’s tough [at times]. Marriage is compromise. It’s wonderful and it’s also a challenge. We take our vows seriously and we’re gonna get through this – whatever obstacle we’re going through at the time. We both agree, divorce is not an option.
LMK: Do you and your wife have any children? Are you parents?
JG: We are. We adopted a newborn little girl about 16 months ago. It’s a trans-racial adoption. She’s Black. The beautiful thing is — her birth mother selected us. Typically, lesbians are the last on the list to be selected for adoption. Gay men are selected much more often.
LMK: Really? Why do you think that is?
JG: The consultant we used said that [working with] two women who are trying to adopt can be challenging because some birth mothers find [the idea of allowing a lesbian couple to adopt] threatening. In our case, however, we were just honored that she [our daughter’s birth mother] selected us to give her child a good life. We love our daughter dearly and we’re doing our best to make sure she’s exposed to her culture. There’s a lot of intentionality around that.
LMK: What’s the best thing about being a parent so far?
JG: Being a parent has caused me to be a more empathetic person and a better boss. I didn’t get it before, but I do now and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter. Before having her, my wife and I both felt a big void that trips or buying things couldn’t fill. We both felt there was more to life. We were both yearning to be moms and had been quite career driven. With so much love to share, during COVID we decided to stop dragging our feet and do it. I’m so glad we did. I find so much joy in being a mother – more than anything else. It’s a deep love that I’m so grateful for.
LMK: Being a parent can make you wish you had control of anything impacting your child’s life. When you think about that, when you think about the world we live in, what’s the one thing you’d change if you could?
JG: Gun violence. No guns. Military yes, but pedestrians no. I just don’t think anyone needs guns. I saw someone the other day, not a police officer, with a gun on his hip. I was like wow, that’s scary.
LMK: You mentioned, becoming a parent has made you a better boss. What do you do for a living?
JG: I’m the Executive Director for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation. I am a fundraiser. I raise money professionally and have for 24 years. [Currently] my team and I raise money and awareness for the library system. Right now, we’re running a campaign to open a new main library in Uptown Charlotte. It will replace the one that’s already there. Originally, the library was built in 1903, knocked down and rebuilt in 1956 and later renovated in the late 80s. So it’s time [for a new and updated library].
LMK: How’s the fundraising going for the project so far?
JG: It’s going pretty well. We’ve raised close to 60 million and have about 19 million to go. It’s not all for the new main library, it’s also for the whole system – for innovation. Hopefully the main library will be done and ready for the community by late 2025.
LMK: Forgive me for asking but, with our current technology boom, so much access to streaming services and audio books, are libraries still a thing?
JG: Yes, they’re just different. Libraries have changed a lot – with technology. They are serving communities differently. There’s now meeting spaces, computer access and working together. If you go to any one of our 20 branches right now, you’ll see tons of people using them. Before COVID our attendance was over three million visits [annually]. We’re now up to two million and visits are growing – with over 300,000 people having cards and we’ve just opened a new branch in Pineville.
There’s been somewhat of a resurgence in library use, as they adapt to what communities need. It’s been said that the library system is the most trusted institution in our country next to the military. There are more libraries in our country than there are McDonalds. Everyone has a story about going to the library and what libraries mean to them. People are very attached to them. Especially now with the attacks on intellectual freedom.
LMK: What do you mean by that? Care to elaborate?
JG: I’m really proud to work for an institution that believes in intellectual freedom and will do anything at all costs to protect it. We believe it’s a person’s choice, [to choose] what they read. We don’t believe that we should make the decision on what my children or anyone else’s [can] read. My boss says, we have something to offend everybody in the library <tickled laughter>.
LMK: As someone intimately connected to the library system, do you read to your daughter much?
JG: Yes, every night, three books. I have the benefit of working at the library and learning specific skills, like active reading. It means pointing out things and asking them to expand on their own experiences. It’s using the ABCs; asking questions, building vocabulary and connecting to the outside world. It’s being a little more intentional.
LMK: How about you? What do you enjoy reading?
JG: I like Historical Fiction. I like to read Marie Benedict. She writes books on powerful women many people don’t know about. I like Autobiographies as well and I listen to a lot of podcasts. My attention span for reading at night is kinda short.
LMK: We’ve talked quite a bit about your work within the library system. But we’ve also heard that you have a connection with The Plus Collective, a 20-year-old philanthropic organization that recently awarded some worthy community members and organizations with needed funding.
JB: I was on the board when it was called The Gay and Lesbian Fund for six years. I was Chair during my time with them and I loved it. There’s no other group like them in Charlotte that is trying to support the LGBT community. They are a really well-intentioned group of people that will hopefully grow. They’ve done great work and helped many organizations become more intentional with their fundraising.
LMK: Before we go, would you mind answering a question we often ask public figures? Could you tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to know?
JB: At one stage in my life I was a fairly decent Ultimate Frisbee player <chuckles>. And, I’d rather be well traveled than wealthy. If someone said, “Here’s 10 million dollars,” I’d rather they say, “I’ll pay for you to travel with your family for the next 10 years.”