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Passion for service leads grad student to Africa

Jenkins stands with women in KenyaJenny Jenkins, a graduate student in the Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications department, turned her dreams into reality just a short year and a half ago when she founded the non-profit organization Imani Tumaini Upendo, meaning “faith hope love” in Swahili.

Jenkins, 22, found her passion for selfless service when she went on her first mission trip to Kenya in July of 2009.  Jenkins worked with REAL4Christ, a ministry based in Mombasa, Kenya. She returned the following summer for another mission trip, where she learned the ins-and-outs of international non-profits.

Determined to continue helping people in Kenya, Jenkins started Run4Change, an on-campus organization that held half marathons and full marathons.

“When I was there for that month in 2010, I heard of all their financial struggles,” said Jenkins.  “As a college student, I can’t give, but I could run and get sponsors that way.”

The money raised through Run4Change provided for items such as uniforms for kids, clinics, water, and food for the people in Kenya.  At the same time, the founder of REAL4Christ asked Jenkins to lead a team on a two-week mission trip to Kenya, and she quickly began preparing and training a team.

It was during this team training, Jenkins said, that the idea for Imani surfaced, originally as a boutique, buying hand-crafted African jewelry and textiles, selling it in the U.S., and sending the money back to REAL4Christ.

“In the beginning, did I know what I was getting into; I had no idea,” Jenkins said.  “It turned into something so much bigger than I thought.”

Young children in Africa hold up a Texas A&M flagJenkins’ idea quickly blossomed. By April of 2011, Imani became a corporation and an official non-profit organization one month later. She led her two-week team to Mombasa as the first Imani team in July of 2011, and shortly after Imani began coordinating mission trips and leading outreach and awareness events.

Jenkins said Imani’s goal is to partner with already existing ministries – such as their current partners REAL4Christ in Mombasa, Kenya, and Cries of a Child in Burundi– and to have the Imani teams and interns do specific projects for them.

This summer, Imani sent its first intern team to Kenya for three months, as well as two two-week teams to Kenya and one two-week team to Uganda. The interns worked with varying age groups at schools, a group of disabled and widowed women, and orphanages in Kenya. Jenkins said that nearly all of the interns received internship credit with the university.

“I know the university is starting to hear more of Imani, at least in our department, and that we do offer internships and that you can get credit,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins said that Imani’s main focus is establishing a women’s program in May of 2013. Imani will return to Kenya and work with the same group of women; they plan to buy them sewing machines and teach them to be seamstresses and make products similar to Vera Bradley.

“I want my women to be known,” she said. “I really want people to hear Imani and it be a household name and to know the specific women they were impacting.”

Jenkins said that establishing this women’s program and selling their products would bring in more revenue than just paying for the women’s salaries; it will bring in money that can help build a clinic and provide uniforms, clothing, water, and food.

Aside from establishing the women’s program, she also has plans for spring and summer 2013 internships and mission trips through local churches.

Not only is Jenkins a full-time graduate student, but she also serves as director of market development at Maroon Bikes.  In addition, Jenkins will receive her non-profit management certificate this December from the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

Jenkins received her bachelor’s degree in May of 2012 in university studies/leadership studies with a minor in sociology and human resources. She is currently working towards her master’s in organizational and community leadership and plans to graduate in December of 2013.


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