June 10, 2021
Get To Know Volunteer Coordinator: Jen Kennedy
Jen Kennedy and her family were approved to partner with Habitat for Humanity for buying their home in 2014.
As part of the process, the family was required to put in 300 hours of volunteer work, helping with other families’ home builds, supporting Goodwill and giving to her children's favorite animal shelter.
"Habitat for Humanity is such a great organization to be a part of, and after partnering with them and working side by side with all the volunteers it opened my eyes to what I wanted to do with my life," Jen recalls.
Jen applied for a volunteer coordinator job with the organization but didn't have enough experience. But that didn't deter her from wanting to give back.
Instead, she found opportunity with EveryStep Hospice in Knoxville to serve as an aide.
"Something told me to apply, I did and I was hired here March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic," she said. "When I was hired, I was hired as a hospice aide but would fill in and do some of the volunteer coordinator job since there was not one at the Knoxville office."
But things changed in August, when Mount Pleasant volunteer coordinator Machelle Lowe was helping in the Knoxville office.
"I remember the day was a Friday," Jen says. "I was just finishing up my day as an aide and came into the office to do my charting and meet Machelle. You could tell instantly that she just absolutely loved everything about her job."
The two were chatting, and Machelle shared some stories that had touched her heart as a volunteer coordinator.
"I remember one story she shared with me made me tear up," she says.
That's when the Knoxville team director joined the conversation, asking Jen if she'd like to take over the volunteer coordinator position full-time.
"I happily accepted, it's crazy how fate works," Jen says.
That wasn't the only time fate played a role in Jen's life.
In seventh grade she met Mike, her first love. While Jen moved right before freshman year of high school, the two dated off and on for a few years. When they graduated, the two went their separate ways.
"We didn't see each other for 24 years," she says.
During that time, Jen had her son Jacob, attended beauty school and worked at a salon.
When the salon closed, Jen knew she needed to do what was best for her and her son and took a job with the Knoxville Veteran's Administration. She eventually transferred to the VA in Des Moines when the Knoxville location closed.
"Then in the summer of 2012 fate brought Mike and I back together," she says. "It felt like we hadn't been apart a day in our lives."
The pair got married, bringing together Jen's son, Jacob, and Mike's two boys, Michael and Evan. A short time later, daughter Emmilia joined the family.
While fate brought the volunteer coordinator position into Jen's life, she did continue to split her time as a hospice aide with her new duties until November 2020.
Though many of the in-person volunteer opportunities are paused for COVID-19, Jen says she's been able to learn a lot about the position and the volunteers she assists.
"Being a volunteer coordinator, you get to work with some great volunteers and be a part of some very special things,” she says.
Those special things have included two veteran pinning ceremonies.
"I absolutely love doing them," she says. "There is a look in their eyes when you present them their certificate that will give you a lump in your throat, and you know you were a part of something special. I think it’s a great honor to be apart of the veteran pinnings."
Jen says that she's been able to meet some of her volunteers as they pop their head into the office from time to time, but she looks forward to getting the full experience once the pandemic is over.
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