It’s a good thing Ray Nell Jones likes surprises because she’s received quite a few this week.
For the past decade Jones, an administrative assistant in the Office of Student Life in Pitt’s Division of Student Affairs, has helped single mothers in need through her nonprofit, The Allignment Chapter. Ever since COVID-19 and social distancing began, she’s been working double-time to personally deliver food and supplies to single mothers who otherwise wouldn’t have access to necessities.
On Thursday, she got a big surprise when a Zoom call turned out to be a segment on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”—and a donation to Allignment.
Jones collects feminine hygiene products, baby formula, diapers, toilet paper and more at her home in Penn Hills, “giving it straight to any single mom that reaches out to me in need,” she told DeGeneres. “Not just in my community, but I’m shipping boxes out nationwide to help all single moms who are struggling during this time. It’s a big passion of mine to make sure that that happens every day.”
“Most people don’t know she does any of this,” said Linda Williams-Moore, associate dean and director of student life at Pitt and Jones’ supervisor. “She’s always kept it separate from her job. People were shocked to see her on ‘Ellen.’”
Jones said she’s made deliveries to 1,318 mothers in Pittsburgh since COVID-19 began—and even more through her “Lifesavers” volunteers in 12 other states. “We went from about 25 to 125 requests a day since COVID,” she said. The organization operates solely off good faith donations and personal funds.
“Right now, single moms are extremely scared. They have no options,” Jones said.
“I remember being that homeless single mom, struggling in silence, not having that support system that I needed,” she told DeGeneres. Though she’s been passionate about this work for 11 years, The Allignment Chapter officially became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in November 2019 because, she said, “I wanted to become the hero that I didn’t have.”
Jones has quietly done this work outside her full-time job in Student Affairs.
“She’s just the life of the office, a big personality, but what I appreciate about her most is her authenticity. We just connected,” said Williams-Moore.
Williams-Moore used to be a single mother herself, she said, and her daughter became a single mother a few years ago. “She’s gotten great support and advice from Ray Nell,” said Williams-Moore. “One day she just brought in a bunch of stuff for my daughter.”
“The person you see in the clip, that’s just who Ray Nell is,” she added. “Whoever nominated her, nominated a good person.”
DeGeneres thought so, too.
The talk show host known for giveaways and surprises is gifting Jones everything she’s giving away during her Mother’s Day show, so Jones can pay it forward.
In turn, Jones is planning a late Mother’s Day giveaway on Instagram. “We’re going to play a little game. I’m regifting car seats, strollers, gift cards, carriers, bassinets, Huggies.” Everything that’s shipped is going out to moms in need.
For Jones herself, there was another surprise from DeGeneres and Hyundai, who sponsored the episode: a new car parked in her driveway.
“It’s going make my life so much easier,” said Jones. “I’m currently operating off of one vehicle. Having two really helps because my fiance helps me out a lot of drop offs. It’ll also help me do what I want to do with my family personally.”
Her daughter Mariah told DeGeneres, “She inspires me by not giving up, even when times get hard. I love her and whenever I grow up, I just want to be just like her.”
Williams-Moore said, “She walks the walk.”
“I know what that feels like when the world has counted you out, and so does she. Your single motherhood does not define your future. That’s what I’ve lived, and that’s what she’s showing people. She’s shown how you can take your story and write your own chapter. I know she has much more to give the world and she’s going to do that. I’m proud to get the chance to work alongside her every day,” Williams-Moore said.