Meet Big Ocean: Jillaire

Interviewed and written by: Shelli Spots.

The first thing Jillaire McMillan told me about herself was that she was a talker. And it’s true—She loves to talk about her family, her faith, and the special experiences that she feels passionate about. She is dedicated to improving the world around her.  That  is one of the things that has drawn her to Big Ocean Women. “Maternal feminism really jived with my way of thinking and my way of living. I have always been an outspoken, independent leader —someone ready to volunteer in my communities (especially in my children’s schools) and speak up for or against things I liked or disliked.”

Jillaire is a stay at home mom to four children (three girls and a boy), who enjoys the the day to day part of motherhood, like baking and laundry. She said, “I like to cook and am enjoying teaching my children how to cook and bake now that they are older. As much as I like it, it is nice to turn it over to them some days.”

Jillaire grew up in Utah, but met her husband in Massachusetts where she was attending Boston College. They married after graduation but spent a few more years in Massachusetts while she finished her Master’s degree, before moving on to Arizona, England, Washington, and finally the San Francisco Bay area. She has been a confident and outspoken leader in all the communities where she has lived, serving as PTA president at her children’s school in the Bay Area for two years, and acting as an advocate for those who need help within the school system; whether that means helping out as a classroom volunteer, organizing a third grade book club, or helping other parents address their concerns about their children.

Working hard as PTA president.

She told me, “one of the really cool things about our experience in Sunnyvale (California) was the very diverse community. There were dozens of native languages at our elementary school. My children were friends with children who were from (or whose parents were from) India, Egypt, Ireland, Israel, Taiwan, Canada, and Vietnam. The women who served on the PTA board with me were from Israel, Luxembourg, Belgium, India, Taiwan, and the U.S. One of the interesting things I learned was what a challenge it is for parents from other countries to navigate the American public school system. It is often very different from their own experiences. Language and cultural differences could be a real barrier for some parents to get involved or to know how to help their children be successful.”

During the time that she was PTA president Jillaire was able to successfully lobby among other parents, helping inform them about school board elections as well as a obtaining a bond to help provide new energy efficient LED lighting, new flooring in the classrooms, and air conditioning where it was needed. She also worked towards funding a parent training program specifically for Spanish-speaking parents. “That program was really successful and some of those parents ended up joining the School Site Council the next year. Training them how to be advocates for their children and helping them see how the system worked gave them confidence to get involved in a way they otherwise wouldn’t have. That was really neat to see.”

Jillaire with Erika.

Jillaire became aware of Big Ocean through Erika Decaster, about whom she said, “she is my best and most loyal friend of more than 25 years. Even though we haven’t lived near each other now for almost 20 years, we have maintained our friendship through lots of emails, phone calls, texts, and visits. She has visited me in almost every place that I have lived. As much as I have moved, she has moved more. I couldn’t keep up, but I have been able to visit her in a few places she’s lived.” When  Erika got involved with BOW, Jillaire was involved in the PTA at her children’s school, and did not feel she could give her all at that moment. But,  she told me “I liked the Facebook page and read the tenets on the website. I tried to follow what was happening and talked with Erika about her visit to the UN in March 2016. I was really interested in the message and the philosophy behind it.” After making the decision as a family to move from their home in the Bay area to Colorado this fall, Jillaire was looking for ways to help on a larger scale.  After finding out that Erika was going to Ecuador for Habitat III she decided to get involved. “I called her one day with the “crazy idea” that I could be her personal assistant in Quito. I told her I’d carry her coat and make sure she was on time to meetings. She was excited by the idea and said, “You could do so much more than that.”

Jillaire became a member of the Policy Team with Amanda Wilkinson, and spent 9  days in Ecuador in October doing humanitarian work. About Ecuador, Jillaire said, “It was amazing. I spent the time communicating pretty well in Spanish, attending Habitat III, and having some trying and spiritually strengthening experiences with some remarkable women.” They  attended every session they could, and met some great organizers who are also advocating for women and trying to create safe spaces and conditions for them.  One of their conversations was with a Kenyan woman who has improved safety for women on public transportation. After telling her about maternal feminism and talking about their families, they told her about the belief that all women have maternal gifts and that any woman who has the interests of the rising generation at heart is a mother.  Jillaire said, “She was clearly touched by our words. It was wonderful to make that connection and to share that idea with her. That is the power of maternal feminism and the message of Big Ocean Women. We want women to know that they have maternal gifts and that they can share those gifts in many ways.”

At a school in Ecuador with Big Ocean.

Since returning from Ecuador Jillaire has spent her time settling into a new community with her family.  She said, “Just six weeks into life in Colorado, I’m still really opening up my life here. I will be working with the 8-11-year-old girls at my church as a youth leader. I hope to volunteer in my children’s classrooms, but with all of the unpacking and settling in, I haven’t committed to anything yet. I’m also hoping to increase my involvement with Big Ocean Women.”  If the service she has provided in her community in the past is anything to go by, Jillaire will be a powerful advocate in her new community, as well as with Big Ocean, dedicating herself to changing the world around her, and helping others to get involved as well.

With a friend from Habitat III.