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How to Show Up and Do the Work

Community Involvement as a Crucial Ingredient in Leadership

Describing herself as “reinvented many times over,” Janet Testerman has been a caterer, writer, editor, and board member for numerous organizations, including Visit Knoxville, Bijou Theatre, Leadership Knoxville, the Dogwood Arts Festival, and Young-Williams Animal Center before becoming the latter’s CEO in 2016.

The Knoxville native grew up watching her parents continuously give back to their community, so it was natural for her to do the same. When Janet moved away for college, she continued that pattern of community involvement wherever she went. 

“In every city that I moved to, that was one vehicle by which you meet new people and really become part of a community,” she says.

When she moved back to Knoxville after receiving her Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication from American University, she jumped right back into volunteering to immerse herself in the city from which she had been away for eight years.

While she had planned to attend law school in Knoxville, a summer catering job turned into a 13-year career instead, eight of those as a business owner. She says it was serendipity that led her back to her communications roots, working through many communications and editorial positions within the Scripps Network. Throughout her career, she was serving the community on boards and leadership teams all over Knoxville. After five years on the board for Young-Williams Animal Center, she seized the opportunity for another career change and now leads the team as CEO. 

Focusing on operations and building the health of the shelter, Janet has worked hard to learn and implement best practices for Young-Williams to become a leader in animal welfare. Conscious that they provide a critical community service, her primary goal has been shifting the community mindset about the center from being a “dumping ground” for unwanted animals to a valuable resource to keep pets and owners together whenever possible. 

“Most people who surrender a pet don’t really want to,” Janet says, “but they hit a life hurdle and think they can’t keep their animals.” 

Through new and growing initiatives such as the Pet Resource Center, Animal Haven program for domestic violence survivors, and an expanding foster program, Young-Williams has prevented nearly 8,000 animals from entering the shelter in 2020 alone. 

In just four years as CEO, Janet has led Young-Williams to achieve no-kill status, going from 65 percent to 90 percent save rate. One of the ways they have done this is through removing barriers to adoption and working with community members to find the right pet for their home and lifestyle. This approach not only helps more animals be adopted out of the shelter, but Young-Williams’ support programs help pets stay in their homes and not end up surrendered again at a later date. 

Young-Williams boasts low adoption fees for their fully vaccinated and treated pets, and Janet is working to implement a mobile spay/neuter program to serve underprivileged communities and help all pets and pet owners have the best possible quality of life. 

“There are no demographic boundaries to being a good pet owner,” Janet says, and Young-Williams Animal Center is working hard to make that a reality.

For more information about Young-Williams Pet Center and the services it provides, visit Young-Williams.org. 

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