Pitt staff member featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” helps single mothers in need


Courtesy of Ray Nell Jones

Ray Nell Jones was featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last Thursday, where she and her family received a Hyundai SantaFe in appreciation for her nonprofit work.

By Diana Velasquez, Senior Staff Writer

For most people, a lunch break at work is a time to relax, but Ray Nell Jones, an administrative assistant in Pitt’s Office of Student Life, spends many of those breaks diligently cutting out coupons.

These coupons are only a small part of Jones’ local nonprofit, the Alignment Chapter, an organization she founded with her husband Donald that helps single moms in need by providing emergency bundles of household necessities, such as diapers and feminine products. Jones was featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last Thursday, where she and her family spoke with DeGeneres and received a Hyundai Santa Fe in appreciation for the nonprofit’s work.

Jones has been helping moms in need for 11 years, motivated by her own past experience as a struggling single mom and her time spent helping others by giving out toiletries to other families stretched thin. Jones said before starting her nonprofit, she helped other mothers on her own time, because she knew how hard being a single mom on a budget can be.

“I was a struggling single mother when I had my first daughter and I remember what that felt like,” Jones said.

She decided to start the Alignment Chapter last year, gradually stockpiling essential items to give to other mothers in need.

“I would put things in a bag, like toilet paper, lotion, deodorant and I would give them to local moms at a bus stop or anything like that,” Jones said. “I’ve always been a really big giver, for 11 years, but last year I wanted to give a name for it.”

Linda Williams-Moore, an associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Life, said Jones is not one to brag about her work, and many of Jones’ co-workers were unaware of Jones’ work until her appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

Williams-Moore said she was proud when she found out about the recognition that Jones received. She added that since Jones doesn’t speak much about her work, it was nice to see something being done in return for all her effort.

“It was just nice to see her get recognition for it. But she doesn’t talk about it a lot at work, and I guess I kind of respect that. She does it very quietly,” Williams-Moore said. “She’s just very humble about it. It’s good to see people who do for other people also be honored.”

Honored or not, Jones said her focus is on assisting single moms and demand at the nonprofit has spiked due to the tough situation of many single moms right now. But with the help of the “life savers,” Jones’ name for the volunteers at the nonprofit who donate and drop off care boxes, they’re getting requests done.

“Demand has increased, and we operate through this with life savers,” Jones said. “Our workload has increased from about 25 requests a day to over 125 requests a day since COVID-19 has started.”

Through the Alignment Chapter website, single moms in need can reach out for help. The website alerts Jones and her group of life savers to deliver a bag full of household necessities. Jones said the bag gives the moms time to de-stress, if only for a little while, so they can get back on their feet and handle their financial responsibilities.

“The need for single mothers is a desperate need, just because single mothers have been so overlooked,” Jones said.

Jones added that with unemployment in the United States at its worst since the Great Depression, single moms are finding themselves out of work and many without a safety net for themselves and for their kids.

“The need has tripled because of the loss of employment and the lack of daycare centers,” Jones said. “We are in desperate need of donations and help to make sure that we can always fulfill every single need and request that comes through every single day.”

Deena Kelly, the associate director of the Office of Student Life, has worked with Jones for three years. Kelly said she was not aware of Jones’ work until about six months ago, when she inquired about Jones’ daily coupon-cutting ritual.

“I’ve never met anyone as determined as Ray Nell. If she has something she wants to accomplish, don’t get in her way. There’s not a day that goes by and on her lunch break I didn’t see her cutting out coupons,” Kelly said.

Williams-Moore said she enjoys working with Jones, and she’s happy not only for Jones herself for receiving recognition from DeGeneres, but also for the women she helps every day.

“I’m proud to work alongside her every day. I’m happy for her and her family, but more so than that I’m excited for all the women whose lives are positively impacted because Ray Nell Jones exists,” Williams-Moore said.

For Jones, her work is really what she’s passionate about. She said she’s found a cause with meaning to her life, and all the extra work is something she’d gladly continue doing, her newfound bit of fame or not.

“I think that people should strive to do what they’re passionate about,” Jones said. “While working, everyone ideally wants to maintain their life. But if helping people is their passion then I would encourage them to do a little bit more.”