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What's Up Magazine

Jackie Noller

Mar 25, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous

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Her small-town background, combined with an impressive career as a financial advisor and manager for Merrill Lynch, paved the way for what Noller refers to as her “third age.” A full-time resident of Dorchester County since 2004, she is an active volunteer in several community-based groups, including Cambridge Main Street, Dorchester General Hospital Community Association, Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, and the German Partnership Committee. In addition, she is a member of the United Methodist Church, as well as a longtime supporter of Oxfam and other famine-relief organizations.

Noller also organized and led local volunteers to help launch the Dorchester County chapter of Habitat for Humanity. To date, three houses have been built, with the goal of building six houses annually throughout Dorchester and Talbot counties. Noller recognizes the Habitat for Humanity program as being an effective way to help families in need and to build bridges within the community.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing safe, decent, affordable housing to lower-income families. More than 300,000 houses have been built worldwide through the efforts and labor of countless volunteers as well as financial contributions. Recipients of a Habitat house must provide a down payment and make monthly mortgage payments. These homeowners also work hundreds of hours on not only the construction of their own house, but on houses for others, as well. Supporters, including Noller, see more than just an investment in a home; on average, these recipients tend to give more time to their communities.

This sort of tangible, positive impact on the world around her has always appealed to Noller. “I came of age in the 1960s, and I always asked myself, ‘What am I doing to change the world?’” she says. The roots of this philosophy can be traced back to her childhood in Montezuma, a small town located in the southeast quadrant of Iowa with a population of about 1,000 people. It was here that she connected with a sense of community. “My parents couldn’t walk down the street without stopping and talking with people; everyone knew each other.” Her mother instilled in her daughters the confidence and belief that they not only could, but should, have an education and skill set to support themselves and ensure their independence.

While her parents were involved in various community groups, it was Noller’s aunt who impressed upon her the importance of having a positive impact on those around her. Setting a good example, her aunt spent many hours reading books to the blind. “She gave her time to a cause where she saw she could help others,” says Noller.

Noller attended Northwestern University in Chicago, where she majored in French and secondary education. After graduation, she taught high school French for three years, but felt a calling for more hands-on work. While pursuing a master’s degree from Columbia University, she lived in both France and Africa, working in the public health field. It was in France that she met her then-future husband, Robert Castadot.

After returning to the States, Noller worked in the health services delivery research field, completed her second master’s degree, and married, before moving to Baltimore with her husband and three stepchildren. At the urging of her husband, she answered an ad for a position with Merrill Lynch, and was hired immediately. This was the beginning of a successful career as a financial consultant. Noller was identified as someone with the ability to communicate with clients on an individual basis; she had the perfect mix of talent with superb people skills. She eventually rose to a management position, and found she had the ability to support the charities and nonprofit organizations that she believed in.

In 1988, Noller was diagnosed with cancer, successfully battled it, and has been cancer free for over 20 years. It was during this time that she began to turn more of her focus towards using her knowledge and contacts to benefit community groups. She supported family-relief organizations through means of education and religion. Habitat for Humanity presented itself as an opportunity for her clients to give back to their communities by becoming volunteers or corporate donors.

After years of dividing her time between Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Rochester, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C., Noller and her husband purchased a weekend home in the Neck District of Dorchester County. They were drawn to the beauty of the open spaces and, for Noller, the sense of small-town community. When she and her husband renovated their home, they chose to use local contractors in their desire to support the local economy. During these weekend visits, Noller saw the need for citizen involvement. Her husband passed away in 1996; in 2004, she retired and became a full-time resident of Dorchester County.

Retirement has allowed Noller to fully focus on her lifelong ambition of making a positive difference to her surroundings. Her life experiences enable her to see the big picture, and she emphasizes the importance of community organizations and event promoters supporting each other. She became involved with Talbot County Habitat for Humanity, and shortly thereafter led a group of dedicated volunteers to create a Dorchester County chapter. Ground was broken for the first house within the first year; three houses are now completed, with access to five more lots on which six houses can be built.

Jackie Noller shows no signs of slowing down. In the past few years, she has volunteered her talents for virtually every major event in downtown Cambridge, contributing to the revitalization effort. She has a reputation as someone with a focus on getting things done. She has the ability to bring together what she calls the “split screen” of life—what is (the practical) and what one wants (the dream). Looking ahead, she sees entire Habitat communities in both Dorchester and Talbot counties. In fact, the two chapters have merged to become Habitat for Humanity of Talbot & Dorchester Counties, and Noller sees this as a positive sign. “Involvement in community organizations like Habitat for Humanity enables us to build bridges within our own county and extends to our neighbors,” she says.

“I may be retired,” Noller adds, “but I don’t want to be isolated from my community. This is motivation for me to stay involved.” Noller has succeeded in her goal to bring about positive changes within her community, but she still asks the bigger question: “What can I do to change the world?”