Jen Zielinski is the Bureau Chief of Black Press Media, overseeing 12 newspapers from Golden to Princeton, both online and in print, and she is also the videographer and our partner in helping to share the stories of volunteers in this column. Jen’s positivity and her commitment to community is evident every time we meet. So for this week, we thought it would be great to turn the tables and interview the interviewer to get a perspective on her passions and why she is such a dedicated volunteer.
While her work life is very demanding and busy, Jen has a huge heart for community, and especially helping animals and empowering women. This is reflected in her roles working with three local non-profits that make a difference. Jen is currently the Vice-President of HER International, a charity that works to empower marginalized women and girls in Nepal and Canada. She is also a Director of the Alley Cats Alliance Board, a registered charity, that is dedicated to providing rescue, rehabilitation, medical care, and adoption to feral and orphaned cats and kittens through the Okanagan and Jen is on the Events Committee for the Kelowna BC SPCA, one of the 44 BC SPCA locations across the province serving sick, neglected, abused and homeless animals.
“I guess the secret is I am not married and I don’t have any kids,” laughs Jen. “So I do have time and love sharing it with animals. Animals really have a big part of my heart. I have adopted a special needs Persian cat from the BC SPCA and he is taking over my house.”
Jen is also very passionate about empowering women and girls and was very intrigued when former president of HER International Kevin Edgecombe invited her to get involved in that charity four years ago.
“When I learned about HER International, I knew that it was something I really wanted to get involved with too,” enthuses Jen. “Empowering women and girls has a huge part of my heart.”
“HER International’s ‘She Creates’ is a program that was created by Kate Phelps, our executive director, which helps girls focus in on things to empower themselves. It addresses bullying. It’s an education piece, and it helps the girls focus on doing things on their own. They can share their issues and concerns and ways to deal with them.”
“When we partnered with Hope Outreach for a project, we realized that there are a lot of similar issues that women experiencing homelessness here in Canada have with women living in Nepal. They have to deal with basic rights like access to shelter, water and cleanliness and so we realized that there was a lot of work to do here as well.”
HER International focusses on ensuring that their efforts in Nepal are respectful and work with local people to come alongside the women to offer support where needed and now are looking to do more of that work in Canada also.
“As always, we are seeking to fill the gaps in service and collaborate with amazing partners to empower women and girls at home as well,” says Jen enthusiastically. “And what’s amazing is our relationship with our participants in Nepal is that it goes both ways. Some Nepalese women heard about the struggles faced by women experiencing homelessness in Canada and wanted to help so they held fundraisers to send money to Hope Outreach here and support their efforts.”
Passion-driven as Jen is, she is wholly committed to expanding the impact that the organizations she works with can make and is a hard-working member of the teams.
“With HER International, we are very much a Governance Board, setting strategic direction, raising funds,” explains Jen. “With Alley Cats, it’s hands-on and I do a lot of the social media for them. With the SPCA events committee, it’s definitely hands-on and we are constantly looking for ways to fundraise.”
“I started volunteering when I was very young, first as a Sparks leader, with Girl Guides, and then I coached basketball, volleyball and track during high school,” says Jen. “I slowed down a little during university but then I started volunteering as a dog walker for the BC SPCA and from there, I started doing different initiatives with the SPCA, both in Burnaby and then in Kelowna when I moved here. From there it just kind of ballooned into different opportunities.”
On balancing work and volunteer commitments, Jen explains “I take every day as it comes. I really like to be involved. I feel it’s a part of who I am. I like to be a part of the community and the action and honestly, it makes me feel really good. Plus, as I journalist, I really like to know what’s going on – I have an inherent sense of wanting to be a part of things and if feeds my hunger to know what’s going on.”
Dorothee Birker is the communications and development coordinator for KCR Community Resources. If you are interested in sharing your volunteer or organizational news, please contact Dorothee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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