Meet Jess Bunshaft: putting love and people before profit
For many people life is all about the next big pay raise, but not for Jess Bunshaft.
“It’s not about chasing the dollar. Don’t get me wrong, we do okay. Roof over my head. Food on the table. It’s enough,” he said, seated comfortably in an armchair in what used to be his parents’ home. It’s changed since then–he and his husband Marc have made it their own–but it’s still the same East Meadow home he grew up in with his parents and two brothers.
Today, Bunshaft serves as executive vice-president of human resources for Goodwill of New York and New Jersey. He’s worked there for the past two years.
Non-profit work was just one of the areas he felt drawn to as a young lawyer.
“When I started out in my career, I saw a few areas I could work in: government, healthcare, and non-profit,” Bunshaft said. The position at Goodwill has helped him tick the last box next to each of those fields.
After graduating from East Meadow schools and later Johns Hopkins, Jess Bunshaft became a Hofstra law student. While studying law, he worked as a county attorney law assistant. After passing the bar, he became an acting deputy county attorney. However, when financial troubles forced layoffs, Bunshaft was forced out.
“I worked for a private law firm for about a year–not for me,” he said about his time after leaving the county.
After a brief stint as a private lawyer, Bunshaft was able to return to Nassau County, serving as a deputy county attorney once again. At 29, he became the head of human resources for Nassau–the youngest person to ever hold the position.
Things continued going up for Bunshaft, who later became deputy treasurer for the county. Eventually, however, he tired of government work.
“I’d done all I felt like I wanted to do in government,” he said. “I didn’t want to run for office.”
That led to a twelve-year stint in hospital management before his move to Goodwill in 2013.
With such a diverse resume, it is easy to assume life has been easy for Bunshaft, but even he has faced challenges.
Bunshaft, now an openly gay man, spent much of his life in the closet. “I was terrified of being found out,” Bunshaft said.
“I knew I liked boys at a very young age. I can remember in elementary school knowing I was different,” he said. “I tried dating girls…eventually you just get to the point where you say ‘to hell with what the world thinks.'”
For Bunshaft, that point came when he met Marc Head of Wichita, Kansas. Head was living in Atlanta at the time.
“A mutual friend of ours who lived in Nashville introduced us,” said Head, who now serves as vice president of external affairs for South Nassau Communities hospital.
The couple hit it off, and Bunshaft eventually brought Head up to New York.
“I didn’t tell my family until he came along. I didn’t see the point,” said Bunshaft.
That was twenty years ago. The two have been married for six years now, since a legal ceremony in Connecticut reaffirmed a commitment they made to each other long ago.
Their positions and relationship have made them active in Long Island’s LGBT Network.
Bunshaft has worked with the organization in a variety of capacities, especially involving efforts to help LGBT youth.
“He’s really been an invaluable resource to the organization and to myself,” said David Kilmnick, CEO of the Long Island LGBT Network.
The partnership between Bunshaft, Head, and the LGBT Network began with an unsolicited donation to the organization that led to a meeting between Bunshaft, his husband, and Kilmnick.
“There was an instant connection over our desire to make the world a better place for LGBT youth,” he said.
The LGBT Network is not the only organization to which Bunshaft and Head donate.
“We give to many charities. Sometimes in large amounts,” said Bunshaft. “We make a point of self-tithing.”
Among the charities the couple has donated to are Island Harvest, Doctors without Borders, the Wounded Warriors Project, and Old Friend’s Senior Dog Sanctuary.
Their charitableness comes from a desire to improve the world, not to gain recognition, they said.
“We think if we can leave our corner of the world better than we found it, that’s worth it,” said Bunshaft.
As for what the couple will do next, Bunshaft said he doesn’t know.
“One thing I found out is not to bother predicting the future. It’s been a great ride so far, but if you asked me ten to twenty years ago what the future would be, I would never have gotten it right,” he said. “Trying to predict the future is a fool’s errand.”