Five jobs. One goal. Zero free time: The JJ Sheffer story, Part 1


Everything JJ Sheffer does is centered around making downtown York a desirable destination.

What exactly does Sheffer do? That's not the easiest question to answer, and she'll be the first to tell people that.

You'll have to scroll down the 36-year-old's LinkedIn page for a while to find a position that doesn't read "- present."

Currently, her name can be tied to CoWork155, New Muse Entertainment, Leadership York and Kable House Presents, along with a steady amount of music-related freelance writing for local magazines.

"It's getting harder and harder to answer the question 'What do you do and what are you working on?' because it's unwieldy at this point," Sheffer said, before remembering she'll be starting a monthly poetry slam in January and recently accepted an adjunct professor position at York College.

The writer, community organizer, music lover, volunteer, mother and soon-to-be teacher is widely regarded as one of York City's dynamic, progressive forces.

She works in a downtown co-working space that she helps to operate. The office holds an eclectic mix of workers who ended up renting desks here because they wanted to work in a collaborative environment with other people. The desks are rented to entrepreneurs and others who might otherwise work from home, alone and removed from the creative influences of co-workers.

Sitting in the office on a recent workday, Sheffer looked out past her thickly rimmed glasses at a barefoot man sitting just a few desks away. She couldn't help but smile.

In the midst of a 13-hour work day, she never likes to complain about her situation.

"When I talk about all the things I'm doing, I start to get sheepish about it because no one person ought to be doing this many different things," she said, "but it's all stuff I care about, which is a cool place to be."

A York native and music junkie, Sheffer never thought she'd end up living in her hometown at this point in her life, but she's been instrumental in the growth of the city, according to friends and colleagues.

With recent health problems, however, and an opportunity coming to start anew, she may be looking to leave it all behind.

Room for two: After graduating from Central York High School, Sheffer went northeast to Kutztown University, where she hoped to hone her love of writing and enjoy herself.

Missy Jones, her freshman year roommate and fellow Central York graduate, remembers just one of those two happening.

"I was really focused on school and getting good grades, and her main focus was making a lot of friends and having a super lot of fun," Jones said, recalling the struggles of living with her longtime friend.

But their long run as classmates ended the summer before junior year, when Sheffer became pregnant and moved back to York for help raising her son.

"She just handed me a picture of the sonogram at a party and was like 'There's a new addition,'" Jones said. "I was like, 'What is this? Is that in (your stomach)?'"

Looking back, Jones believes the pregnancy and subsequent removal from academics actually helped Sheffer.

"I thought she was going down a really terrible road before this happened," she said. "I don't think she'd be where she is now necessarily because that was the moment she started taking life more seriously and being responsible."

Meet Carter: Sheffer's son, Carter Grimm, is now 15 years old "going on 40," according to his mother.

"Carter was an only child around adults his whole life," Sheffer said. "He's always related better to adults than kids, and his pop culture frame of reference is completely lost on kids his age."

At 6-foot-3, Carter is making it difficult for his mom to refer to him as little anymore, but he still allows her and other family members to call him Pants, a nickname that derived from Mr. Silly Pants when he was an infant. It evolved from variations including Silly, Mr. Pants and The Pants as he grew.

Carter's father, a former Kutztown football player, and stepmother live on the same street as Sheffer, and the three maintain a friendly relationship.

"Carter's always been the center of everyone's universe," Sheffer said.

Carter said his mother is one of his best friends and friends his own age see her as "the cool mom," constantly taking him to concerts and introducing him to band members.

But while Sheffer's love of music has made the most obvious impression on her trumpet-playing son, he said her commitment and work ethic are the attributes he's most happy to have inherited.

"She is committed 100 percent to everything she does and pours her heart out into all this stuff, and the products are amazing," Carter said. "That can be her biggest perk and her biggest flaw because sometimes she doesn't think about herself at all."

That overcommitment came to a head earlier this year when a trip to the hospital led two doctors to tell Sheffer: "You're working yourself to death."

Coming Friday: Sheffer's health problems lead her to an important realization, but they can't keep her away for long.