Homegrown Heart

Written by Emma Carter

Photo by Delightful Perception Photography

Jen Kennett emanates a warmth and joy that would be impossible to fabricate. She’s the kind of person who you feel comfortable striking up a conversation with and the kind of person you remember long after that conversation ends. Born and raised in Fort McMurray, she now lives with her husband and two daughters. In addition to being a mother, she works full-time as a recruiter with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, is pursuing a degree in business, and still consistently volunteers within the community. In describing what inspires her to volunteer, she reminisces about what Fort McMurray was like years ago. When Jen was a child her mother was a dedicated volunteer, and Jen still recalls observing the way her mom knew each person they encountered. “That’s who I wanted to be.”

Despite this early introduction to volunteerism, Jen’s community work is something she’s come to as an adult. After spending some time living in Lethbridge, coming back to Fort McMurray inspired her to “show some respect to this place.” With the economic boom and the influx of people coming here for work, Jen sensed a lull in the vibrant community she grew up in.

“I wanted to make it so people could see what I see… I think that we are unique in a lot of good ways. If people are missing the community here they’re really missing out.”

Volunteering is a way to enrich the community and forge personal connections. Most recently, Jen acted as the Volunteer Manager at the Constant Comfort Fort McMurray Food Festival. She’s also on the Community Investment Committee with United Way Fort McMurray, where she conducts interviews and assesses gaps to determine how the United Way should direct their resources.

Jen with some of the Constant Comfort Fort McMurray Food Festival team

Jen came to the United Way after being laid off from a job in 2015 due to company cutbacks. Attending the United Way’s Seeing is Believing Tour was a turning point for her. Only an hour into the tour she was moved to tears. With the expected emotional toll that losing a job takes, she felt as if this was what her life was leading up to. “They say everything happens for a reason: this was that moment for me.”

Maintaining her enthusiasm for volunteerism has never been a problem for Jen, although she admits that too much work has led to exhaustion in the past. Learning to be discerning about where she volunteers her time has helped her to find balance. “It’s really important to take the relaxation with it.” Jen admits that after the Food Festival ended she took some well-deserved time to herself. “I [also] stopped being so hard on myself as a mom,” she adds. Not spreading herself too thin allows her to maintain a positive environment for her daughters.

Jen Kennett continuously strives to enhance Fort McMurray’s community, to make this not only a place to live, but also a place to call home. She’s looking forward to becoming a Sparks leader in September, and has just been accepted to the 2017/2018 Leadership Wood Buffalo program. To those who come here with preconceived ideas of what this community is, she offers this advice:

“Leave all the things you’ve heard at the Welcome to Fort McMurray sign and just open your eyes.”