It may not surprise anyone who knows her, but Gene Jones is a football fan.
Since her husband Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, Gene hasn’t missed a game. She also enjoys watching her alma mater, the University of Arkansas, where Jerry played for the 1964 Razorbacks’ national championship, and her grandson, John Stephen Jones, is a junior quarterback.
Wearing the Cowboys’ navy, silver and white or the cardinal and white of the Razorbacks, supporting her people and her teams comes naturally to Jones.
So, too, does supporting children.
“We have three children and nine grandchildren, and they are all very unique and precious to me,” Jones says. “And when you enjoy your own children as much as we do, it’s only natural that you want to have those types of relationships with other children — especially those who might have a special need or challenges in their lives.”
Jones has made helping children and families in need the focus of philanthropic efforts that include supporting youth centers, child advocacy organizations and more. For her efforts and the national impact she has made through her work, the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas named Jones its 2021 Arkansas Woman of Inspiration.
She will be honored at the CACAR fundraising dinner Oct. 6 at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center.
“Well it is certainly an honor to be recognized with the women who have been honored before me,” Jones, a Danville native, says, “and it is especially humbling and touching to have something like this happen in my home state, where I grew up and learned the basic principles of helping others.”
Community to Community
Jones comes by her philanthropy honestly. Her parents were active in the community and instilled in her the idea of service at a young age.
“My father was a banker and a community leader in a small town, and he and my mother were very instrumental in giving their children firm beliefs in the importance of giving back to your community and helping those who are in need,” Jones says.
Her focus on children includes two youth centers in north Texas that operate in partnership with the Salvation Army.
The Gene and Jerry Jones Family Center for Children is located at the Salvation Army Corps in Irving and provides after-school programming for at-risk children, as well as social services to families in need.
The Gene and Jerry Jones Family North Texas Youth Education Town (YET) is part of the Arlington Salvation Army’s family shelter. It offers low-cost daycare services and after-school programming to homeless families staying at the shelter and to the surrounding Arlington/Mansfield area.
“Our heart has always been in helping children reach their greatest potential, and we felt that The Salvation Army’s values aligned with our vision,” Jones says.
She contributed extensively to the establishment of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge; she and Jerry are on the Salvation Army’s Dallas County Board and its National Advisory Board, along with the board of trustees at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.
As someone who puts hope and faith in children and what they can offer the future, Jones is pleased the philanthropic ethic has been passed on to the young people in her own family.
“I am very proud of the fact that all of my children and grandchildren have grown up with an appreciation for helping others in a wide variety of causes in our community,” she says. “I think that if you raise your children to have an open heart for those in need, you have been given a gift that never goes away.”
Advocacy in a Crisis
CACs serve to reduce trauma to children who are neglected or physically, mentally or sexually abused. They collaborate with medical and mental health professionals as well as the legal community, law enforcement entities and child protective services.
There have been 31,271 cases reported in Arkansas, according to CACAR, which lends urgency to its mission of protecting children by establishing multiple CACs in the state.
“Children are very dear to my heart and are the foundation of our communities,” Jones says. “This center supports [providing resources to] change the lives of young people who otherwise might not have a voice. Their mission is so important through education and programs that help prevent abuse and neglect to so many children.”
The Woman of Inspiration dinner is CACAR’s largest fundraiser and honors a woman who has made significant efforts on behalf of improving children’s lives. The Honorary Event Chair is Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson, the 2015 Woman of Inspiration recipient.
Proceeds support 17 CAC locations in the state that provide free services to abused and neglected children. CACs served more than 10,000 Arkansas children in 2020, a feat accomplished in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“During the pandemic, we have all learned how to adjust and do things differently in our day-to-day lives, in our jobs and in our families,” Jones says. “So it just comes naturally to find ways to continue caring for others, even though you may not have close personal contact with them.
“The virus has only amplified my thoughts about helping others, because it has created challenges and difficulties that we have never experienced before in our lives. So long as there are hardships and people in need of assistance, there is going to be work that needs to be done.”
The Art of Service
AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys’ futuristic, $1.4 billion home, opened in 2009 and remains one of the more impressive facilities in pro football. It can seat up to 100,000, features a retractable roof that takes 128 motors to operate, has 41,000 light fixtures, 3,000 TVs, an 800-foot glass wall, a pair of 292-foot arches spanning its length and 180-by-120-foot retractable doors in each end zone.
With its sight lines and sleek appearance, the stadium is a beauty to behold for Cowboys fans and football fans in general. Jones, however, saw a way to add to its beauty in a way that might be considered outside the lines for a traditional football field.
Founder of the Dallas Cowboys Art Collection, Jones has unconventionally paired sports and art into a well-received museum within AT&T Stadium’s walls. The museum features a focus on contemporary art and new young artists and is supplemented by an art council continually seeking pieces for the annually updating collection.
Pointing to the architecture of the great, ancient coliseums, Jones has noted that a fusion of art and sports is more common than people think.
“We truly want the stadium to be more than a place to watch a football game or a concert,” she says. “It’s a fabulous venue for those events, but we wanted to offer other experiences within the building. In addition, this collection complements and interacts with the architecture of the stadium. We have tried to make selections that are accessible and approachable for all the people who visit here.”
It’s a totally different arena than her work trying to enhance the lives of children in need, but Jones sees the museum as a way to bring a little beauty to the lives of everyday people, kids included, who might otherwise only be thinking about a final score.
“We have been able to expose the art to millions of guests since we opened the stadium, and millions more through the media coverage of the collections,” Jones says. “Not all of these people would take the time to go to a museum, but if in some way we can reach them for just a moment with this collection, we feel it is worth it.”
Not that Jones doesn’t watch the games, or have a favorite team.
“The Dallas Cowboys of course. I have never missed a game since we bought the team,” Jones says. “As an alumni of the University of Arkansas and Jerry playing on the 1964 national championship team, our family has always been huge supporters of the Razorbacks.”
It was family that inspired her philanthropy when she was young, and it was her love for her own children that inspired her to help the children of others.
There are a lot of ways to help in a community, Jones says, but for her, it always starts with the kids.
“Whether it be through art appreciation, educational programs or visiting children in hospitals who are very sick, it just lifts my spirits to know that your presence in their lives can make an impact and a difference,” Jones says. “The passion for working with children is that you know you can help change their lives for the better at a very young age.”