Women Leaders of the River Region
The River Region is abundant with leaders, thinkers and innovators who are both driving industry forward and nurturing new generations of our skilled workforce. In this issue of Port Log, we’re highlighting some of the women who inspire us to think bigger, work harder and lead fearlessly. From government and economic development to education and industry, these women are a testament to the breadth of progress and opportunity happening right here, right now.
Jaclyn Hotard takes leadership seriously in her role as St. John the Baptist Parish President.
St. John the Baptist native and Parish President Jaclyn Hotard was introduced to politics—specifically, campaigning—at a young age through her parents, who were involved in local politics.
“I enjoyed the camaraderie and fun of campaigning long before I really knew what political office was like,” she says. “Later, I learned more about public service watching my grandparents so graciously serve the community in different ways. They instilled in me the importance of not just being on the receiving end but to always be giving something back.”
Serving as a council member for 16 years prior to being elected Parish President uniquely prepared Hotard for her current position as Parish President. In addition to understanding the balance of our two branches of government and why they are so vital to our governmental systems, Hotard also is keenly aware of the concerns and challenges faced daily by council members. “I truly desire to help them better serve their constituents,” Hotard says.
Hotard was elected in October 2019 and sworn in on January 13, 2020 (the same day the LSU Tigers won the National Championship). In her first 14 months in office, Hotard was faced with a global pandemic, seven named storms all headed our way, and a freeze event that caused water and electrical outages. By beginning each morning with a clear set of priorities, her staff can quickly respond to all of the unplanned emergencies that happen along the way.
“Having the role as Parish President in a community in which I was born and raised almost feels surreal,” she says. “It is the most humbling experience, and I never take for granted this extraordinary opportunity the residents have given me. My commitment to this community and the people who live here prompted my desire to run for Parish President.”
Hotard strives to exemplify leadership by motivating her team toward a common purpose. “Our purpose is to serve the community, so I try to find ways to get everyone excited about that purpose,” she says. “Leadership is also about elevating and empowering those around you and lifting others along the way. I fully respect that concept.”
In her free time, Hotard enjoys being with her family. And to the question of whether or not she plans to run for Parish President again, Hotard says that right now, she is solely focused on the job at hand.
Qualities of Leadership
Chassity McComack oversees the daily operations of the River Region Chamber of Commerce.
Executive Director of the River Region Chamber of Commerce Chassity McComack is a St. James Parish native with a family history of farming, industry and entrepreneurism.
“In my current role with the Chamber, I get to reflect on leadership a lot,” McComack says. “Leadership is one of those terms that can carry a lot of different notations. Resiliency, resourcefulness and confidence are three qualities that come to mind. You don’t necessarily need to be an owner or CEO of a business to be considered a leader. You have to be able to drive for the greater good, bend when needed and be able to guide toward resources. One more important piece would be having a servant’s heart. No matter what role you represent, we are here to serve one another.”
McComack started with the Chamber at the time of its inception in March 2004, beginning as a part-time administrative assistant and before a promotion to Executive Director in February 2005. Her role is to oversee the day-to-day functions of the office and to ensure execution of the program of work set forth by the Board each year. “I also have had the opportunity to serve on the LACCE (State Chamber) Board these last couple of years,” she says.
A key priority for the Chamber is workforce development. “The public-school systems and businesses across the board are looking to us to help define what our region’s workforce needs are today, amidst the pandemic,” McComack says. “The Chamber serves as a catalyst and a hub, and it needs to ensure all entities are at the table and connected to dialogue on these needs. The next big thing is small business support, which is key and vital to our purpose.”
McComack admits that prior to being hired by the Chamber, she did not pay attention to upcoming legislative sessions or what taxes were being proposed in the community. “It certainly has validated how the average person does not realize the significance of what using their voice can do or how important supporting local business is to the well-being of the River Parishes,” she says. “I am profoundly grateful to serve in this role as it has allowed a greater appreciation for small business and its true impact on our economy and community.”
Aspen Murphy leads the River Region Chamber of Commerce through leadership and team-building.
Originally from St. James Parish, Aspen Murphy was selected as the Chairwoman of the River Region Chamber of Commerce in January 2020, and she was honored when she was asked to serve for a second year in 2021. What she loves the most about the area is the friendliness of the people. “When you introduce yourself to someone in the River Parishes, people want to know your last name, where you went to high school, who your family is,” she says. “We are all like one big family.”
Currently, the RRCC is focusing on pandemic relief programs for its member companies. The Chamber also serves as an advocate for businesses of all sizes, with a focus on small businesses. “There is a myriad of benefits and opportunities we can help connect businesses to, especially in the area of business-training and relationship-building,” Murphy says.
Murphy encourages new business owners in the area to schedule an appointment with the respective parish’s Economic Development Director. “Becoming a member of the Chamber will help you with additional resources,” she says. “The Chamber can also help connect with you the Small Business Development Council to help get your business plan started, as well as financial planning and marketing tools.”
As another initiative, Murphy started the Women’s Empowerment Conversations last year. What was supposed to be a one-day conference turned into a four-part virtual series over a few months due to COVID-19. “It has been incredibly uplifting to see our women leaders and allies come together to support each other,” she says.
Murphy also is heavily involved in her community through volunteerism with different organizations over the years, such as St. John United Way, New Wine Christian Fellowship, Aviation Awareness Day and more. Currently, she also serves on the board of the Krewe of Harmonia Mardi Gras organization.
As one of Port Log’s “Women Leaders in the River Region,” Murphy exemplifies leadership by providing inspiration and vision for her team and giving them the tools they need to succeed. “You should inspire your team to reach both their personal and team-driven goals, while providing the support they need as the unique individuals that they are,” she says.
When Murphy isn’t working or volunteering, she attends law school and spends time with her husband and children. “I’d like to thank my husband, kids, mom, dad and sister for their constant support,” she says.
Penelope Shumaker strives to enrich the lives of students everywhere
Originally from the Raceland area, River Parishes Community College Campus Director Penelope Shumaker has been a LaPlace resident for 25 years. After working as a business owner and corporate trainer, Shumaker decided she needed a change of pace, and it was when she taught a business course at a local community college that she discovered a previously untapped passion for guiding and shaping young minds.
“I enjoyed the students and the challenge of supporting them to attain their own success,” Shumaker says. “I found it very satisfying to impart actual life experiences in the classroom, along with the book learning.”
As RPCC director, Shumaker continues to be inspired by the dedication and perseverance of her students, especially those who overcome adversity to enrich the quality of their lives. She recalls one graduate with a learning disability who started at RPCC’s GED program and went on to earn an associate degree in business.
“I was inspired by the tenacity and strong will to succeed in this student,” Shumaker says. “It was a daunting task to undertake. She made the decision to change the course of her life for the better and then did it. I use this example to encourage more students to reach for a better life.”
Shumaker is currently involved in the development and opening of a new St. Charles Parish campus, where she hopes to extend opportunities to even more students. “The community has needed a campus for some time, and I am proud to be a part of that initiative, as well as bringing Louisiana transfer degrees and training for industry and healthcare,” she says. “The shorter-term workforce training we offer will put residents to work quickly. Most of these are tuition free. The St. Charles Campus will make a positive difference in the community for generations to come.”
Shumaker doesn’t do it alone, though, and is a strong believer of the “it takes a village” mindset. She takes special care to show appreciation to every RPCC staff member for their contributions to the learning environment. “All play a role in the success of our students,” she says. “From the janitor to the Chancellor, student success is a combined effort of all.”
Outside of work, Shumaker enjoys spending time with her husband, Donald, and their three rescue cats. She is an avid gardener and traveler and looks forward to seeing more of the world in the near future.