“You have to live like there’s a God. God is wanting us to do something that requires His help. Let’s do something that’s only going to work if God does it.”
Halftime Alum JT Olson is clear on what matters to him at his core – making an impact. After spending even ten seconds with JT, his energy, excitement, encouragement, and inspiration are sure to rub off on you. In his second half, JT is channeling his infectious energy and all his time into making an impact on families – specifically orphans and widows.
When we caught up with JT last month for an interview, he candidly shared how his halftime journey was a season of important preparation for the impact he is making today. Specifically, he can see how a cohort of peers, low-cost probes, and knowing his strengths has allowed him to live and work in his “sweet spot.” JT is now running with abandon toward his Ephesians 2:10 calling, making an impact all over the country by caring for “the least of these.”
At the age of twelve, JT was orphaned as a result of a fatal car accident involving both of his parents. For four decades, adoption was part of his own personal story, but there was uncertainty in its purpose – until recently. His own adoption story and the adoption of his daughter inclined his heart toward adopting families. Then, nine years ago, JT took a leap of faith, leaving his full-time job in the executive search industry to found Both Hands, a nonprofit focused on helping orphans and widows. The term “Both Hands” references the organization’s mission to assist families fundraising to adopt children by doing group projects that help widows in their local communities. Today, the organization is making incredible headway. In July 2017, Both Hands celebrated 837 kids adopted, 771 widows cared for, and over $8.2M raised for adoption and orphan care.
The amazing thing about JT’s second half is that he can clearly see how his first half career and life story prepared him specifically for a successful second half making an impact. He shared, “when I think about this Halftime thing, it is clear to me that the first half was critical.”
So, what was JT doing in the first half that prepared him so well for his second half? The answer may surprise you.
As a college student in need of extra money for tuition and living expenses, JT got a summer job selling books door-to-door for the Southwestern Company. He says the skills he learned during his first summer selling books matured him and prepared him for everything that followed. He not only learned communication skills, how to recover from rejection, how to build trust, and how to sell, but he also saw in his trainer the importance of mentorship and making a personal difference in the lives of others.
After college, JT accepted a full-time position with the Southwestern Company and dedicated the next 19 years to the company, recruiting college students “to do a job that could change the trajectory of their lives.” He says he really fell in love with relational selling and mentorship at that time. JT mentored these young men and women at the beginning of their careers, sharing Christ with them, and helping them develop into leaders. He learned how to instill confidence in others. Today, as he works with families who are trying to raise funds for adoption, he is able to use those same skills to instill confidence in them that they can succeed in the sometimes daunting process of adoption and fundraising.
JT’s family life has always been full, with five children ranging ages 14-28. He and his wife, Sara, had four children biologically and then adopted their youngest daughter from China when she was very young. When the kids were small, JT left the Southwestern Company to found his own executive search firm. Though he was very successful in this endeavor, and it taught him valuable lessons in starting an organization from scratch and building it from day one, JT realized in the process of running his company that something was missing. He was in a season we at the Halftime Institute like to call “smoldering discontent.”
Snapshot of Both Hands Impact (September 2017)
837 kids no longer orphans
771 widows cared for
704 projects in 42 states- more than 100 in TN alone
$8.2M raised to date
100% of all funds raised go directly to adoption and orphan care
It was during this season that JT started reading the book, Halftime, with a group of six peers for four hours each month, including Halftime Institute alum, Dick Gygi. JT recalls how helpful it was to process his halftime journey in a group of peers, noting specifically that the feedback was invaluable. He learned through this experience that corporate recruiting was not his “sweet spot” because it lacked the relational dynamic that he craved.
JT recalls traveling with his Halftime peer group to Memphis, TN to hear Halftime alum, Bob Musokowski, share his story. “He said ‘this is hotel earth, folks. This isn’t our permanent home and you have to make a difference.’ and his words and his story made a profound impact on me during that season.” He remembers how encouraged and inspired he was as he heard stories of other halftimers and got to know what they were doing.
Following the book study with his peers, JT felt a burning desire to not only get back to his sweet spot, but also incorporate his passion to make a difference in the lives of widows and orphans. So, he began to prayerfully conduct low-cost probes.
“I love the concept of the low-cost probes. That’s where our first fundraising project started, which became the foundation for Both Hands. That’s when I decided that we were going to do this full-time. I remember one person came up to me and said, “I think this is going to be bigger than Habitat for Humanity,” and I was blown away.”
The halftime journey is often one that involves the whole family, and the Olsons were no exception. JT’s family had to make some serious adjustments in order to make the launch of Both Hands a feasible reality. Until that time, his wife, Sara, had stayed at home with the kids homeschooling. In an effort to support their dream for Both Hands, Sara went back to work full-time outside the home at Belmont University. The entire family leaned into the transition to make it happen. Not only that, but JT sincerely feels that the organization is really a by-product of a whole network of people coming together to make a difference. It has truly been a God-sized dream that has come true through the prayers and service of countless people.
As JT thinks back to those early days and all that has happened since, his encouragement to other halftimers is this: “You have to live like there’s a God. God is wanting us to do something that requires His help. Let’s do something that’s only going to work if God does it.”
When we asked JT what advice he has for other halftimers, he said without hesitation:
“If there’s something in your heart and soul that is pulling at you, PURSUE THAT. If it lights your fire, pursue it. I started Both Hands when I was 52. My parents passed away when I was 12. Someone pointed out to me that it was 40 years after being orphaned that God made this a reality, which has neat parallels to the Bible. God has prepared me for this specific place at this specific time.”
In 2017, JT self-published his first book, The Widow, The Orphan, & Me, in which he shares his life story and the foundation of Both Hands. As Dave Ramsey says, “[It] probably won’t take you long to read, but its impact might just last a lifetime.” You can get a copy of the book from the online store on Both Hands’ website here.
Our aim in spotlighting various Halftime Institute alumni each month is to inspire, challenge, and encourage you in your second half journey. May JT’s story be an example of how God can use your first half to powerfully equip you to do the “good works which he has prepared in advance” (Eph 2:10) for you to do in your second half.
If you would like to re-engage in coaching or get connected with other alumni to conduct low-cost probes, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Visit the Alumni page and fill out the form to let us know how we can best support you.
We’ll leave you with this inspiring quote from JT:
“When I get up in the morning, I don’t want Satan and his little minions checking the box that says “not a threat.” I want him to growl that I’m up and awake and making an impact. For that, I have a target on my back- but I’d rather be in the battle than on the sidelines watching.”
May your Kingdom impact make the enemy growl, and may the Lord protect you as you continue on in the battle.
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