Janet Guen joined the Foundation in January as senior philanthropy advisor for the Piscataqua Region. She works with generous people, families and businesses who want to make a difference in their communities. Here, she talks with the Foundation’s Lois Shea about community philanthropy, a family trip to China, and her favorite things about New Hampshire’s Seacoast.
LS: You were with United Way for most of your career before joining the Charitable Foundation – why have you chosen community philanthropy as your life’s work?
JG: I started out of college in a management development program with United Way Worldwide. Then ten years at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, then in New Jersey, then 15 years home with my kids, then 10 years with United Way of the Greater Seacoast.
It’s always been important to me to be doing something with a mission. I liked the local nature of the philanthropy I have worked in, doing things that that impact your local community but also doing work in organizations that are big enough to have scale in the work that they do. And, at the end of the day, it’s important to me to feel like I am doing something that matters in the betterment of people’s lives.
LS: You have worked in the Piscataqua Region for a while now – if you had to name your three favorite things about that part of the state, what would they be?
JG: I just love that you have access to a couple great cities, you are close to the beach, you’re close to the mountains. The way of life here is a step slower than living in a Boston suburb. The Piscataqua region is this amazing place in terms of the degree to which people are committed to their communities and want to step forward – whether it’s support the arts or support human services or put on a great parade – I think there is a really deeply rooted sense of commitment to community. And I like being a New Englander. It’s where I grew up (in Needham, Mass.). I like the change of seasons. I like the hardiness of having to get through the winter.
LS: We all have a “Why New Hampshire” story, whether we grew up here and continue to choose this place, or we came from somewhere else. What is yours?
JG: We were living in Hingham, south of Boston, but my husband ended up with new job in Portsmouth and it was not commutable. Initially I was a little reluctant to move to New Hampshire but I grew to love it. It’s just a great place to live, and that’s why we stayed.
LS: What do you do when you are not working…?
JG: I run because I know I need to. I am married to someone who loves exercise and can’t live without it. I am not one of those people. I enjoy reading. I love travelling, so I spend an inordinate amount of time planning trips, mostly for our family sometimes with other people. And I love spending time with family.
LS: Tell me about a trip that you took to somewhere that you loved?
JG: We did a trip around 3 years ago to fairly rural parts of China. My mother-in-law was born in Boston’s Chinatown but grew up, for the most part, in mainland China. We did the trip with her. She was 93 when we went, and went back to the village that she grew up in, and visited my father-in-law’s village as well. And we did that with a total of eight family members.
LS: What is something that people would not know about you from reading your LinkedIn profile?
JG: I have travelled a fair amount by myself. Hiking and biking trips through Scotland, through the Black Forest of Germany – that one I did completely alone. It was supposed to have been a biking trip with a group that got cancelled at the last minute. It was a week long, hiking from village to village in the Black Forest. I got lost, I got hailed on, I ran through fields in thunder and lightning. I probably was not adequately prepared, but it was an adventure.
LS: What’s a book or a movie that you go back to and either re-read or re-watch, because it is just so great?
JG: I love reading historical fiction as a way of understanding a place and its history. Recently I have been reading the Lisa See books set in China. “All the Light You Cannot See” was a book I absolutely loved.
The one nonfiction one that my husband and I have been recommending is called “The Defining Decade, Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now.” It’s so easy to view your 20s as a time you can mess around without purpose because you’ll figure it out by time you’re 30. The author talks about how you don’t have to have a complete game plan, but your 20s are a really important time for you to be challenging yourself and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and building what she calls your ‘identity capital.’ I found it an interesting book to read, and found that a lot of advice really isn’t just for your 20s. You kind of need to be building identity capital for the rest of your life.
LS: What haven’t I thought to ask you about that you would want to mention?
JG: I am just so grateful to be working for this organization. I have admired the Charitable Foundation for so long from afar. I have been so impressed by the thoughtful way this organization approaches the things that it does and the compassion that it brings. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this team at this point in my life.