Photography by Dan Austin
Lakelander, Jen Lay, is on a mission to change the narrative for single moms by helping them provide stability
for their kids.
Seventeen years ago, Jen Lay was a young, newly married mom of a two-year-old little girl named Jasmine.
Jen was just starting out in her real estate career with Keller Williams, before the boom and subsequent bust of 2008. She hustled. She worked hard. She soaked up all the knowledge she could to be the best at her job. Early on, she experienced a taste of success and was excited about the future.
Then, out of the blue, she was blindsided by a divorce that left her and Jasmine on their own and nearly homeless. For months they floated from house to house staying with friends and family. In addition to her primary job in real estate, Jen had to take on several odd jobs to make ends meet, often stretching a dollar beyond what should be possible. Jen often had to choose between paying rent or paying the utility bill. Breakfast for dinner by candlelight was a regular occurrence.
Eventually, Jen met Ed and Nina Abernathy. Ed and Nina had a house that was available for rent and was also near Jasmine’s school and cheerleading gym, two locales that were central to their life. Through Jen’s tenacity and Ed & Nina’s generosity, Jen and Jasmine had found their perfect home. After a year of renting, Jen approached the Abernathy’s about the possibility of owner-financing. Jen wanted to give Jasmine the gift of stability, a home they could call their own. The Abernathys agreed, and Jen began making payments toward ownership right then. Jen and Jasmine finally had a place of their own.
Through this experience, Jen shifted her mindset and began to look at her specific gifts and talents. She asked herself how she could use her gifts to get out of the cycle she was in.
During this time, Jen enrolled in BOLD (Business Objective a Life by Design), a specialized course developed by Keller Williams. Through this experience, Jen shifted her mindset and began to look at her specific gifts and talents. She asked herself how she could use her gifts to get out of the cycle she was in. Through the lessons she learned and applied in BOLD, Jen learned to let go of unhealthy ties, set some audacious personal and professional goals for herself, and doubled her real estate revenue.
In 2015, Jen was accepted into Leadership Lakeland – a competitive leadership program facilitated by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce. It was this experience that exposed her to many of Lakeland’s phenomenal non-profits, of which LVIM, Achievement Academy, Girls, Inc., and VISTE are some of her favorites. After her Leadership Lakeland experience, Jen decided to take an active role in the community. Reflecting on the many individuals and services that helped her when she struggled, Jen decided it was time to give back.
She wanted to give others the gift that had made all the difference in her and Jasmine’s life, the gift of stability.
Jen found ways to give back in the immediate by volunteering and serving on non-profit boards, as well as engaging her circle of influence in philanthropic endeavors. However, she also set a 10-year goal to launch a non-profit that, using proceeds from her real estate business, would help single moms acquire their first homes. She wanted to give others the gift that had made all the difference in her and Jasmine’s life, the gift of stability.
Habitat for Humanity teaches us that “growing up in a decent, affordable home can have a powerful effect on children. Studies draw a straight line between the quality, location, and affordability of housing and a child’s ability to thrive.
On the other hand, low-quality housing — often accompanied by pests, poor ventilation, lack of heat, and other detrimental factors — has been strongly linked to physical health problems for children.
In addition, the stress that parents experience due to living in poor conditions can translate into emotional and behavioral problems in their children. Children whose families who are forced to move frequently in search of better, more affordable living situations often struggle. And parents paying too much for a place to live too often must deplete financial resources that otherwise could be invested in their children’s health, education and futures” (https://www.habitat.org/our-work/how-housing-affects-child-development).
In 2015, while volunteering at the VA on Christmas Day, Jen met her now-husband, Robert Lay. Together, they have continued building a life of service focused on the community. When Jen shared her vision to help other single moms with their first home, Robert was her biggest cheerleader, and Jen’s 10-year goal became a 5-year goal.
Today, Jen has launched The Lay Legacy.
“Our mission is to give single mama’s a hand up through real estate by funding their closing costs and down payments to purchase their first home.”
Jen says, “Our mission is to give single mama’s a hand up through real estate by funding their closing costs and down payments to purchase their first home. The gift of stability. I want every single mom to be able to provide their kids that same feeling I gave Jasmine – a home that no one could take away.”
Q & A with Jen Lay
When is the right time to give?
What would you say to someone who is considering a way to share their successes?
The moment you feel it, do it! Every single dollar helps. And, if you don’t have money to spare, give your time. Trust me, it’s appreciated!
What does giving mean to you?
The more you give, the more you receive. I literally met my husband on Christmas day, volunteering at the VA hospital. I’m pretty sure that every great thing that has happened in my life, has happened at the crossroads of giving and serving.
To learn more about the Lay Legacy, please contact Jen directly at 863.370.1793.
To make a donation, please visit
Along the way, Jen recollects the many people who helped her when she stumbled and celebrated when she succeeded. As her real estate team leader, Gate Arty taught her to be more effective and objective by removing emotion from business transactions. She credits her husband, Robert, for believing in her and pushing beyond what she thought possible when others were skeptical. Casandra Vann, also a single mom at the time, worked for hand in hand with Jen to help hundreds of struggling homeowners through the real estate crash. Pastor Wayne Blackburn taught her grace and forgiveness. And, of course, her mother, whom she calls Mami, who set the example of hard work early on in Jen’s life.