Spotlight: Renee Potts, IEI Executive Assistant

Being a mom of four is a little like having twenty Internet browsers open at once, part of why Renee Potts fits in perfectly at Team IEI.

Potts joined the Institute for Emerging Issues in July 2017 as executive assistant to Director Leslie Boney. Her job? To keep him and the rest of us organized, and while the position’s multitasking and event planning suits her, Potts, 40, had already lived several lives—and careers—before joining IEI.

She started off as a preschool and elementary school teacher in her native Massachusetts, and a slight Bostonian accent colors her words as she talks about her young adult life in the suburbs of that historic city.

“I’ve always loved kids. I’ve always had that nurturing mentality,” Potts said of her first career choice. Good thing too, since Potts and husband Jon Paul are raising four kids of their own in Fuquay-Varina, where they moved from Boston two years ago. The couple had tired of Boston’s bitterly cold winters. “A little snow is good but not nine feet of snow,” Potts said.

Their kids, aged 6 to 13, keep Potts on her toes, and are also why she’s such a fighter.

After divorcing as a young woman, Potts became a single mother in her 20s, and had to scramble to make a living in expensive New England.

“I had to get independent and fight and raise my kids,” Potts said. The struggle wasn’t easy and eventually Potts’ now-slim frame topped over 200 pounds as stress packed on the pounds.

But scrappy Potts saw an opportunity, and after losing the weight through hard work at the gym, she became a personal trainer.

“Being a personal trainer helped me unlock other people’s potential for them. Taking the time to understand someone’s motivation and using it to help them succeed in their goals was amazing,” Potts said.

The people skills Potts gained from personal training also helped her take advantage of another opportunity: In 2015 she started work as an assistant for the Deputy Commissioner of Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Along the way, she met and married Jon Paul, 48, a former journalist and current marketing executive. The couple added two kids to the son and daughter from Potts’ previous marriage and in 2016 the family of six made it down to the Tar Heel state, their move, in part, inspired by North Carolina’s placement at the top of many “Best Of” livability lists during that period.

Potts was excited to find work at IEI, not only because the executive assistant position built upon her previous skills, but because she deeply believes in the mission of IEI.

“I like working at IEI because I feel like I am contributing to the state of North Carolina and helping build a better place for people to live. I also love how passionate our staff is about what we are doing and how important it is to the future of North Carolina,” Potts said.

Potts currently adds her skill set to the entire staff’s efforts toward planning and implementing IEI’s upcoming ReCONNECT to Community forum, which will examine ways to re-energize civic engagement around the state and will take place in Asheville Sept. 17.

Part of IEI’s larger ReCONNECT NC initiative—which will feature six forums around the state over the next three years—the ReCONNECT to Community forum marks the first time IEI will host a forum outside of Raleigh in its 30-plus years.

“ReCONNECT to Community is so important right now. We need to start getting back together as a society and getting back to each other as humans. When we all contribute to our community the benefits are monumental,” Potts said.

When Potts isn’t helping North Carolinians “reconnect,” she’s unwinding with family at the area’s local parks: Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County is a favorite.

But really, just as long as she’s in the warm, Carolina sunshine, and with the people she loves, she’s good.

–Beth Hatcher