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Athena Award finalist: AnnaMarie Jackson

Tell AnnaMarie Jackson it can’t be done, and she won’t tell you it can.

She’ll show you.

"Early in my teaching career, I was talking with the principal, and I was probably complaining," Jackson recalls. "And he said, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t complain – change it.’"

That’s exactly what Jackson and her husband, James Jackson, did in 1987. Troubled by the lack of medical supplies available to clinics in rural Brazil – something James Jackson observed while working as an international economic consultant – the Jacksons spent a month gathering about $250,000 of donated, surplus medical equipment, then paid out of their own pocket to have it shipped. Today, the Jacksons’ Project C.U.R.E. has become the world’s largest distributor of donated medical supplies, with shipments worth more than $300 million going to 120 countries.

As the director of needs assessments for Project C.U.R.E., AnnaMarie Jackson volunteers her time working with international requests for medical relief, organizing travel, developing training manuals and training Project C.U.R.E. representatives.

In 2005, Jackson developed "C.U.R.E. Clubs," where high school students learned about a world problem, then raised money and awareness about the issue. She also created "C.U.R.E. Kits for Kids" as a way for children to help the less fortunate by putting together shoebox-sized packages of basic first aid supplies for families in developing countries.

These were ways to "foster a heart of compassion in the lives of our youth," Jackson says. "The biggest enemy in our culture is the message of entitlement and the all-about-me attitude."

Jackson grew up in Nampa, Idaho, and was born in the same hospital as her future husband. They moved to Denver, where James Jackson became a wealthy real estate developer. Devout Christians, the Jacksons gave away much of their fortune and dedicated themselves to helping others.

"When I met Dr. AnnaMarie Jackson, it was very clear that I was dealing with an extraordinary woman who has so much to offer to adults as well as children," says Izabela Lundberg, who nominated Jackson for the Athena Award. "Her passions, wisdom, willingness to listen and assist others, were just some of the many traits that she unselfishly shared."

AnnaMarie Jackson’s career in education spans 35 years and put her in classrooms from elementary school through college. A recognized expert in gifted education, Jackson was a key presenter at the World Congress for Gifted Children, and she opened her own school in Evergreen for highly gifted students, Academy for Excellence.

Jackson’s awards and honors include membership in Phi Delta Kappa, the Colorado Governor’s Award, the World Who’s Who of Women and the Colorado Association for Gifted Children Teacher of the Year. But two honors stand out for her.

The first came in 2005, when the Jacksons were named the National Parents of the Year. But she’s equally proud of her "Who’s Who in America" teacher awards, the result of nominations by outstanding high school seniors.

"Maybe 5 to 7 percent of teachers ever receive one nomination, and 2 to 3 percent ever receive a second one," Jackson says. "I’ve had five of them from students who nominated me as the teacher who made the biggest difference in their lives. It’s very humbling."

A great teacher, Jackson says, needs to understand how and why children learn and teach them to be more than just consumers of facts.

"Excite them to become lifelong learners, instill in them a can-do attitude – and then get out of the way and let them learn," Jackson says.

Leading a life full of learning and compassion comes down to "whatcha gonna do with whatcha got," Jackson says – which just happens to be the title of a book written by one of her favorite authors: her husband.

"It’s a basic life question. What you do with what you have presented to you," Jackson says, "makes all the difference."

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Lisa Ryckman

Lisa Ryckman is ColoradoBiz's Digital Editor. Contact her at lryckman@cobizmag.com.

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