She has a rule. She hugs everyone who comes to Halo Café to get food for their pets, and she doesn’t let go first.
“A lot of our clients are homeless or elderly or just in need,” explains Fresno State alumna Jennifer Quinn-Yovino as her voice cracks just a bit. “Some of them don’t get any human touch or contact. They just hold on so tight, and they just need it so bad.”
Of course, since COVID-19, she has been required to break that rule as they moved to a contactless system. But love and compassion are still delivered with every order.
Quinn-Yovino started the Halo Café in 2011 with her husband Jim Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, after she saw a need in the community while volunteering with local animal shelters. She noticed that many who had fallen on hard times would often have to choose between taking care of themselves or feeding their pets.
When Halo Café first opened, Quinn-Yovino said they were handing out pet food in a parking lot when a woman named Rhonda came up to get her supply. Once Rhonda received her food, she broke down in tears. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had been going through the treatments.
“She decided that she was not going to take all of her medication so that she could pay for their food,” said Quinn-Yovino. “A horrible decision, but I love her heart.”
As an animal lover, it’s a decision she understands. Even with the compassion and empathy she shows for other people, she loves animals even more.
“What I love about them is their innocence and the way they approach the world with absolute trust, happiness, and love,” said Quinn-Yovino.
As an example, Quinn-Yovino tells the story of Sable, who she describes as a beautiful chocolate dog with light tan markings. Sable first came to Halo Café with her owner Steve Verrue who was on oxygen, he had just lost his job, and could no longer afford to feed Sable.
“The reason he lost his job, the reason he was on oxygen, and he was so frail: he was in a house fire and [Sable] saved his life,” said Quinn-Yovino. “He had to go on disability and couldn’t work because his lungs were so damaged from the smoke inhalation.”
Her charity has allowed Verrue to keep Sable. The two are now regular visitors to Halo Café.
For Quinn-Yovino, the world is made up of connections between living beings, and she thrives within those connections. Helping others, be it human or animal, is where she has found her calling.
“Jennifer is all heart with no pretentiousness,” said Dr. Kathy Adams, professor of communication and Department of Philosophy chair. “She has an ability to stir in everyone and every animal a genuine feeling of mattering in the world, and that is a gift.”
Growing up, Quinn-Yovino’s parents were both theatre arts instructors at Fresno City College (FCC). After graduating from Hoover High School, she decided to begin at FCC.
“I wanted to have that experience of being on that campus with my parents, and that ended up being the most magical time.”
Quinn-Yovino’s father advised her to do what she loved, and she would find a way to make money. Taking that advice, she transferred to Fresno State, where she received both her B.A. and an M.A. in communication.
“I found that [communication] was where my heart was,” said Quinn-Yovino. “I loved the critical thinking and delving into the psyche of people and why we do what we do and how communication can help and hurt. I just felt so ignited by that.”
Quinn-Yovino explained that communication is the human connection that binds everything in this world. By having knowledge and a passion for that connection, she believes it prepared her to take on any role.
“I sincerely believe that words can solve anything and everything. I believe they can start wars, and they can end wars. I have that much faith in words,” said Quinn-Yovino.
After receiving her M.A. at Fresno State, she applied for three jobs and got all three. After careful consideration, the position she chose is the same position she has today: the Special Projects Coordinator at the Fresno County Superintendent’s Office.
A big part of Quinn-Yovino’s job is organizing large scale events for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools (FCSS). She heads up the Fresno County Academic Decathlon which she describes at the premiere intellectual event for high schools. The winners of the county match go on to the state and national competitions.
“Jennifer has changed the lives of many thousands of Fresno County’s students through her work on Academic Decathlon and College Night, both of which open a world of intellectual inquiry and aspiration to our talented Valley youths. The College of Arts and Humanities enjoys teaming up with Jennifer on the Academic Decathlon course we offer on campus each fall as well as the competition in the spring,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “By applying her brilliance and heart to everything she does, Jennifer improves the lives of Fresno County’s students, and we are so proud to call her an alumna and friend!”
She also organizes the Fresno Area College Night in the Fresno Convention Center. The event allows one-stop shopping for a wide range of colleges where students can meet one-on-one with representatives.
“A lot of our students are first-generation college-bound students. Their parents haven’t had to navigate this course,” said Quinn-Yovino. She also noted that details, such as deadlines, have likely changed since parents went to college.
Working at the superintendent’s office allowed Quinn-Yovino to pursue her other passion, teaching. For years she taught communication and theatre arts courses at Fresno City College and Fresno State until approximately 2012. As an instructor, Quinn-Yovino she found inspiration from her Fresno State professors, especially Dr. Robert Powell and Dr. Kathy Adams. From Powell, she learned techniques to engage her students and made learning fun. From Adams, a perspective and world-view which continues to inspire her.
Her advice to communication students: “If you love it, stick with it because it prepares you for nothing and EVERYTHING. Because when you have those foundational skills of speaking and writing and communicating, you can do anything. You can get through any job interview. You can write any summary, any report, and succeed beyond your wildest dreams if you have those foundational skills.”