Vernita Jones can say a lot without words. After joining the Hands in Ministry Program at McGee Chapel Missionary Baptist Church 10 years ago, she learned American Sign Language to communicate with deaf members of the congregation.
“They were telling me the struggles they had to get things done,” Jones said. “It really made me want to help them.”
Jones joined the city 12 years ago and currently works in the Finance Department as an assistant director for the administrative office of City Council.
Jones, who grew up in a church in east Chicago, learned early on the value in helping others.
“I always like to wake up seeing if I can help somebody,” she said.
Jones moved to Houston in 1978 after being awarded a basketball scholarship to attend Texas Southern University. Now she puts her values to work each week. Every Sunday and during weekly worship, Jones serves as the church sign language interpreter, using ASL to interpret church services to deaf church members. She also assists them with sign language translation outside of the church.
“When they have to go the doctor or hospital, I generally take them and help interpret what’s going on,” said Jones, who has coordinated the program for the past five years. “Sometimes they need to go to the store and I go with them to help.”
Along with volunteering in the Hands in Ministry Program, Jones has served on the church’s usher board for the past 32 years, currently serves as the church nurse, and is vice president of the church’s marriage ministry, which offers counsel to couples.
“That’s my way of living and learning more and more in the church and seeing who I can help,” she said.
When Jones isn’t busy volunteering at her church, you can find her managing the budgetary and administrative needs of the city’s 16 council members and their staff.
“I can’t say enough about the talents that she has,” District D Councilman Dwight Boykins said. “The biggest talent you have is you have to put up with 16 different personalities.”
District J Councilman Mike Laster agrees.
“There is never a time when I ever call Vernita Jones, and it can be at weird or inconvenient times of the day, she is not only there but she is there in a joyous way,” Laster said.
Jones said it’s all in a day’s work.
“I come in and make sure all the offices are in order and take a walk on the floor to see if anybody needs anything,” she said of how a typical work day begins. “My goal is to make sure all 16 council members are happy and that’s what I try to do.”
In 2014, Jones helped implement the Council District Service Fund, a budget amendment that allows council members to fund projects in their districts such as street repairs, mini murals, after-school programs, Houston Police and Houston Fire station needs, and more. To date, the program has funded more than 500 projects totaling nearly $33 million.
“I always ask the council members to take me to see what was done,” said Jones, who spent two months working alongside council members, the Mayor’s Office, and other city departments to create and design the funds process. “It just feels good to see how the money is being used.”