On any warm morning almost year-round, you could possibly find Jennette Jenkins hiking in the hills around Gilbert, Arizona. Jennette loves to be outside, and describes herself as athletic and enthusiastic. “I feel like I was blessed with a strong body, and I try to take advantage of that. I play basketball several times a week, and run and hike whenever I can. In fact, sports is one of my two passions. Photography is the other.” Jennette has tried to develop both of these interests the best she can. In fact, it was photography that initially led Jennette to Big Ocean, and her position on the media team.
Three years ago Jennette was at lunch with a neighbor and friend who told her about Big Ocean, and their message of maternal feminism. “She told me about this group, and said it was something she really thought I would enjoy. When I heard about Big Ocean and how they were trying to promote motherhood and the roles of women, I was excited. Motherhood is undervalued in society as a career choice, but for me it is so valuable. It has been exciting to be a part of a group that is working to change the culture and the mindset. The world tells us we need to be doing something else, something more important, something that makes an impact outside the home, but I don’t think there is anything more important.”
One of the first things that Jennette did as a member of Big Ocean was to attend the United Nations Commision on the Status of Women. “At first I didn’t know what I could offer. I wanted to help, but I was not sure there was a role for me, so I just tried to help in any way I could. I began to help with video and with interviews, and found that I really enjoy that. I sort of grew into the role. But I feel that talking to women about their lives and their stories is so important.”
“The first year I didn’t take my camera, so I was doing everything on my phone. But the second year I went prepared. I recorded interviews with women from all over, documented the trip, and put together a video about it.” Jennette has always been interested in photography. In fact she takes so many of her family pictures that she said it was hard to find any with her actually in them. “I used to make fun videos of our family to commemorate special things. With Big Ocean I feel like I can have an impact by helping to tell important stories. That is one reason why I am so excited to be going to the UN again this year. The last time I went to CSW I remember interviewing a girl from Pakistan who was there advocating against the practice of child brides. Her story was so powerful. And every time I hear a story like that I just know, it needs to be shared.”
Jennette grew up in the small Utah town of Roosevelt, and remembers it being a wonderful, peaceful place to grow up. “We lived in a small town. I am really a farm girl. We had one neighbor growing up, and it was our grandparents. I can remember days during the summer where we would leave the house as soon as the sun came up and not go back inside until it was dark. We worked hard, and we played hard.” After spending some time in Ohio where her husband went to dental school, Jennette and her husband moved their family to Arizona where he found a practice. “We wanted to be closer to family.”
Family is one of Jennette’s biggest priorities. She and her husband have five children and four grandchildren. Their oldest child is 28 and the youngest is 10. “I love to go camping and hiking with the family. I love this beautiful earth, and I love my family. It is so important to be together and share our time.” Jennette says her passion for being with her family came from her parents. “We would have big reunions on my parents’ ranch with all of the extended family for a week or so. We would just be together and hang out, and it was so important. I want my kids to feel that same sense of togetherness, to share in the same things I love.” In fact, this year Jennette’s youngest daughter, Lacee, is with the Big Ocean youth delegation to the UN.
Jennette and Lacee were able to work together at the UN recording women’s stories.
For Jennette it seems natural to want to share her interests and her passions with her family. “For me, the most influential person on my life has been my mom—she was so significant that I could not imagine my life without her. She was so humble and unassuming, but she helped me realize that having children is important. I am not just a mom.” Looking for opportunities to serve is also something that comes naturally. “There are so many opportunities to serve. Sometimes it can actually be a little overwhelming. But I believe if you put God first and look for what he wants you to do, everything will work out. He makes up the difference.”
In fact, when asked about their family’s most important value or belief Jennette emphasized this belief. “You just have to put God first. Be obedient, seek out his will, and find out what he needs you to do. Everything else will fall into place.” This is one of the principles that led Jennette and her husband to volunteer with an organization called Hope Arising, a group that works in Dera, Africa helping families become more self-reliant and helping children become healthy, self-reliant, and educated. “Almost every member of the family has gone to Africa to work with Hope Arising over the last ten years. My husband leads the medical team every year. They specifically help women in Ethiopia to achieve self-reliance through micro loans and business training.”
Jennette was led to both Hope Arising and Big Ocean because of her belief in the roles of women and the power they have. “I am a strong woman. I believe in women’s rights. We are just as important as men, so we need to work on equality. I want my contributions to be recognized as important, but not in the same way as men’s. Our contributions have economic value and real importance. The role of Mom can be unnoticed and unappreciated, and I am drawn to this organization (Big Ocean) that is trying to change that.”
“I am super passionate about the value of women. We are not cheap. We are not here to be someone’s eye candy or someone’s trophy, we are here for a much higher, great, and grand purpose. I get frustrated with the media who portray women in a way we were not created to be. The exploitation of women is really hard for me to see and watch, and I want to do everything I can to help change that.” And that is exactly what Jennette is trying to do: change the way we see women, one story at a time.
Written by ShelliRae Spotts