Leaving a legacy through integrity and service to the community.
Edited & Directed By: Tamara Boxx for LUXYMOM® | Photography: Tamara Boxx for LUXYMOM® | Wardrobe Styling: Tamara Boxx and Libby Romano for LUXYMOM® | Hair: Ley Bravo for Philip Douglas & Co. | Makeup: Meigan Hovland for Philip Douglas & Co. | Featurettes: Sharon Hallberg, Jennifer Parisi, Serena Parisi
Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do. These three core values have been ingrained in me since I joined the military at 17. For the longest time, I felt this was an “Air Force thing” – until I met some of the most amazing women that I have the absolute privilege to call my friends: Jennifer and Serena Parisi and the matriarch of their family, Sharon Hallberg.
These tenacious women are leading the way, creating beauty and hope out of chaos and leaving communities better in their wake. Whether it is from personal experience or the desire to help those who cannot help themselves, these warriors allow their values to drive decisions, face challenges head on, and operate from the soul, which has ultimately turned their work into a living legacy.
Have you ever sat and talked with someone who is absolutely and unequivocally in love with their passion? You can feel their happiness and sense of purpose radiating off them. It is contagious and inspires you to join their cause. The reason? Integrity for their cause. It isn’t superficial – it is 100% real joy.
You see, helping others is in this family’s blood – ingrained – a core value. Although each woman has her own passions, there is a central theme – love for community with integrity.
“I feel like when you have integrity in your pursuits, the outcome is meaningful, solid, and true. It isn’t about being seen or because you are forced to do something – you want to do the right thing. I’ve learned that from both my mother and grandmother,” notes Serena.
Her family has a long history of philanthropic work, as her grandparents are heavily involved with Cleveland’s University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, where they co-chaired fundraising efforts and serve on the Board of Trustees. Her mother, Jennifer, was enrolled in her parents’ work and began to nurture her own passions for children’s health and educational programs.
It wasn’t until Jennifer moved to Naples that the fire in her soul ignited and she found her passion – children’s mental health awareness through Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
“Being around such wonderful medical facilities such as University Hospital in Cleveland, I saw that good, solid healthcare for children was lacking in Southwest Florida, and I wanted to change that and challenge the system to do better.”
Indeed, children’s mental health has had a stigma surrounding it for years, creating a void for our youngest members of the community. Jennifer has since been relentless in her pursuit to shed light on this subject, joining forces with like-minded souls who want nothing more than to save our children and make the community a better and safer place.
To shatter the norm and usher in a new era of readily available mental health care for our babies is priority one for Jennifer.
“I’m not afraid to take on a challenge that is important to me,” she says confidently. “I am not going to placate or play in both lanes. Sometimes, that can be seen as opinionated or stern, but I’ve always considered myself a fighter, and that is why I fight for others.”
For this family, it isn’t enough to simply be associated with a cause – they want to drive it, will it, and ultimately bring joy and happiness to others through their work. To put service before self and have unwavering integrity.
Service Before Self
What does service before self mean? By Air Force definition, it means putting professional duties above personal desires. For our trio, it is putting aside the uncomfortable feelings of seeing someone’s else’s reality or your own painful experiences to dig in and create real change.
“I remind my children to turn pain into a purpose. You can take circumstances or past experiences and help people moving forward. It is a healing process,” notes Jennifer.
The word brave comes to mind. It has many different meanings and applications, and one often thinks of the physical quality of bravery rather than quiet strength. I believe J.R.R. Tolkien said it best, “It is not the strength in our body that counts, but the strength of our spirit.”
So often, we witness greats acts of bravery from people who are not physically strong, but who are determined, driven, and unapologetically dedicated to their mission. They swim upstream and against the tide to reach their goals, never shying away from a hard journey.
Today, where so many are finding solace in being silent, there are still those who choose to stare down tumultuous issues and stand for those who cannot. Silence is not an option, only action.
Serena is the full embodiment of the word brave to me. Even after walking in her own darkness, she found a path to grow into an unyielding young woman who looks tragedy in the eye and stands fast like a mountain against the wind. Like her mother and grandmother, it is about the bigger picture and how to protect those that cannot do it for themselves.
“My daughter and I are advocating for a legislative change to remove a loophole that is currently keeping confidential the names of offenders against whom protective injunctions for minors have been entered. This will help non-profits who rely on publicly available information to ensure volunteers and staff are safe to be around children. Kids with nonprofits are already vulnerable, and now, it is difficult to tell if people working with them are potentially dangerous,” Jennifer said.
“It has been a challenging but rewarding process. A version of the bill is currently in legislative bill drafting and hopefully will be filed for consideration this legislative session.”
This exciting development will inspire those who thought their battle was lost, and slap down those who thought they had beaten the system.
Excellence in All We Do
This is my favorite core value. It directs us to develop a sustained passion for continuously improving our work, and to cultivate ideas to further propel our endeavors.
“All of our footsteps are a little different,” says Sharon. “It gives me so much pride and respect to watch both Jennifer and Serena move with such articulation and elegance in the areas they focus in.”
Sharon, a titan in advocacy and philanthropic circles, also has a long history working within children’s health and educational programs, working alongside her husband, Chuck Hallberg.
When they moved to Naples in 2006, they hit the ground running, advocating for underprivileged children. It can be truly shocking to see the realities of some folks lives. To know that just 50 miles from our buzzing community where hospitals and resources are right around the corner, a city like Immokalee, Florida exists. Children work in fields where staggering heat beats down on them in the Summer and dreams of higher learning dry up like the dusty field under their feet.
In 2009, Sharon and her husband joined the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), the founder of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, where they immersed themselves in a relentless charge to see hope brought to the Immokalee community and those alike. They would go on to serve as Grande Committee members, Co-Chair the Winter Wine Festival itself, and become members on the Board of Trustees.
“I was in Immokalee quite a bit serving on a Grande committee for the Naples Children & Education Foundation, and we looked at various schools and after school programs – it was very impactful. Inside the school we would go and meet the kids, and the children were so gracious and loved meeting people from NCEF and would just talk with you. I had a conversation with a little girl and then received a beautiful card. She was so appreciative for us just being there. I still have the card to this day.”
The foundation has raised more than $212 million and impacted over forty non-profit agencies and the lives of over 275,000 children. “It is amazing to see these kids that are impacted now graduating from high school and going on to higher education. It is remarkable to be part of something so amazing.”
Since moving to Naples, the couple has been involved in fundraising endeavors for the Greater Naples YMCA, American Diabetes Association, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and on various other committees, always leading from the front and continuing their pursuit of excellence for the community they live in.
Over the years, this amazing family has led the way both locally and nationally, spearheading new and exciting developments through their love and passion for others. Like angels opening their wings, these leading ladies embrace their community with a pure desire to leave this world better than they found it. Sharon summarized it best when she said, “Choose what will make the most impact on the needs of people; follow your inner desires and where you can be the most impactful, and do it for the needs of others. If you follow what is really important and you see where the need is, then you’ve met it.”