Make it a Habit

Crescendo issue: April 2014
Alumna Jerra Tauber Spence (IAC 93, IAA 94-97) made her first gift to Interlochen just eight years after she walked across the Kresge stage to receive her Interlochen Arts Academy diploma.

By then, she had graduated from New York University, toured with her own band, founded a record label and clothing company focused on women in the punk rock world, and gotten married. She realized that it was time to start giving back, at age 26.   

“I wanted to get into the habit of giving,” Jerra said, acknowledging that it doesn’t always come naturally but that it’s an important habit to learn. When she looked at the drive and dedication that she saw in her Interlochen peers, she knew that she didn’t want financial obstacles to hold anyone back from having the same amazing opportunity that she had at Interlochen. Making a financial contribution was just the first step.

Jerra first came to Interlochen Arts Camp as an Intermediate operetta major, but she discovered the creative writing program that summer and began petitioning her parents back home in California to let her attend the Academy. Her mom tried to discourage her by making a trip back to campus in the middle of winter, but even a cold Michigan February couldn’t stop Jerra’s Interlochen dream.

Her first day of class as a creative writing major wasn’t quite what she expected, though. She described how Michael Delp, then chair of Creative Writing, checked everyone’s hands for callouses. “He told us we all flunked, kicked us out of class, and told us to go chop wood. The next day, he locked us out of the room and told us we couldn’t come in unless we could figure out how to get in.”

Jerra, a sophomore, wondered what she had gotten herself into. She and her fellow writing students huddled outside the classroom door and experimented with several approaches, including trying to force the door open. Finally, she said, they started begging Mr. Delp to let them in, and, much to their surprise, it worked. He let them in and told them that they had adequately demonstrated that they wanted to be there, wanted to learn, and were willing to work.

That introduction left a lasting impression on Jerra, and the message of hard work became a recurring theme. “I learned that no one is going to give me breaks. I have to do my art on my own,” she said. “Editing taught me how to take my life into my own hands--not just my writing, but my life.” She also learned to value relationships and not take them lightly, even though it would take more effort to maintain those relationships once she and her friends scattered in different directions.

Supporting Interlochen financially is one way she maintains her connection to Interlochen, even though she hasn’t been on campus in fifteen years. “Once I started giving back, I felt like I had a voice and a direct link to where I came from,” she said. But her giving isn’t just about looking back. “When you reach back, you also reach forward--you’re supporting the future of the arts.”

For Jerra, that first contribution at age 26 was just the beginning. Her annual gifts have turned into a named scholarship for a creative writing student at the Academy. This year’s recipient, junior Sojourner Ahebee, was one of five students from across the nation invited to the White House last fall as part of the National Student Poets Program.

Now living in California with two young daughters, Jerra works as a brand consultant and runs Zevia, the natural soda company she started with her husband. She sees herself staying involved with Interlochen for years to come--as a donor, a volunteer, or any other way that she can serve.

Her advice to other young alumni who are just starting to think about giving? “Give every year, even if that amount changes,” she advised. "Some years will be better than others and you’ll be able to give more, but give something every year. Make it a habit."