During a school trip to Europe, a high school girl stumbled into a press room at a pre-Wimbledon tennis tournament. Amidst reporters, post-match interviews and the click of wire services sat Jeanne Ford. The tennis lover saw an opportunity to mix her love for writing and sport. The budding journalist was hooked.
Wimbledon took place a few days later with Bjorn Borg playing on Centre Court. Jeanne penned a story on the match on the back of a paper bag. Unbeknownst to her, her humble beginnings were the start of a 17 year career on the professional tennis circuit.
Jeanne came to Florida State in 1979 to pursue a degree in Communication with a minor in Journalism. Tennis was a constant through her college career, playing on the Futures circuit her junior year and interning with the Women’s Tennis Association her senior year. Aspiring to work on the professional tennis circuit, Jeanne took extra classes at FAU and UF to graduate a semester early. In December 1981, Jeanne landed a position with one of the top promoters on the professional tennis circuit and started a career that would lead to media relations and event management overseeing men and women’s tournaments.
In 1996, Jeanne was recruited by Disney from the Centennial Olympic Games. In September ’96, Jeanne joined Disney to help open the Disney Wide World of Sports complex, now the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. She has been with the company ever since and in her 19 years with Disney, Jeanne has worked in a variety of roles and currently works in Corporate Citizenship at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fl. In her role, she oversees the Disney VoluntEARS program and the Disney Ambassador Program.
“It’s pretty special because I get to focus on our Cast Members providing VoluntEAR opportunities and recognition programs for their efforts that make a difference in the community,” she explained.
Since its inception in 1982, the Disney VoluntEARS program allows Cast Members and their families and friends to contribute personal time to positively impact the community. In the last two years alone, WDW Resort Cast Members have generated over half a million VoluntEAR hours which earned EARS To You grant checks totaling over $2.1 million benefitting over more than 500 charities throughout Central Florida.
Jeanne and her team work to provide VoluntEAR opportunities and organize Cast campaigns and drives throughout the year. The largest annual campaign benefits the Heart of Florida United Way. In 2014, Cast Member and company pledges totaled $3.7 million maintaining Walt Disney World Resort’s role as the charity’s top supporter for more than four decades. Cast Members also donated more than 2 million supplies for the Back-to-School drive and more than 36,000 gifts for the Toys for Tots drive. The team also organizes VoluntEAR events at nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Club, Coalition for the Homeless, Clean the World and more.
Jeanne is involved with various charities in Central Florida and donates her Ears To You grant check to A Better Life Pet Rescue where she has volunteered for over a decade and fostered 39 homeless dogs. “Many of the animals have been neglected or abused. They really shouldn’t trust anyone, and yet they do. It’s amazing to watch them blossom just from a little love and feeling safe,” she shared. Jeanne gives her time to a wide selection of charities like the Second Harvest Food Bank, Give Kids the World Village and, as a breast cancer survivor, raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
When she isn’t making magic at work, Jeanne, who grew up with parents who were in the hospitality business, enjoys hosting family and friends to new culinary recipes, staying connect with her Asian heritage through the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Orlando, traveling with her three dogs and playing tennis.