Staff Spotlight by Vanessa Dunn, Awaken Intern
Awaken is filled with warriors. One of those is Co-Founder, Jen Robinson, whose tremendous compassion for her clients shines as she discusses her work. Executive Director and fellow Co-Founder, Melissa Holland, states:
One thing that stands out about Jen, is the way the women are so drawn to her. It’s because of who she is, not what she does. Jen is incredibly welcoming and warm and trusts easily, she cares day in and day out whether she is on the clock or not.
Jen has filled several roles over the past seven years at Awaken. Today, she serves as the youth intervention director, running the agency’s prevention program and serving as a case manager to 18youth ranging in age from 11 to 18-years-old.
Jen, a Reno native, met Melissa at a Bible study. As Jen began to learn more about the issue of commercial sexual exploitation from Melissa she felt called to stand up for the survivors of commercial sex trafficking in the Reno-Tahoe area. Jen began providing rides to victims, and as time went on she realized that they not only needed food, but clothing as well. The two women began to develop traction and awareness within the community. Jen, by nature a caring and genuine person, realized that she had a moral obligation to establish Awaken as an organization. She used her degree in management and marketing, along with her business knowledge to procure a business license.
One of Jen’s favorite things about the job is watching the clients laugh and interact with one another. “Jen’s heart for her girls is truly inspiring, she goes above and beyond her duties. The girls feel so comfortable with her,” says Kasia, the program director for Awaken.
Jen loves working with the girls, hearing their stories and watching them overcome, saying:
I think being invited into the most sacred and personal parts of their life is the most rewarding. In December I was asked by one of the girls to be in the delivery room when she gave birth to her first child and I was asked to be the one to cut her umbilical cord. It’s an honor and a privilege, and the fact that she would trust me enough to allow me into that room and into her life means the world to me.
There are struggles that come with the job. When asked about the challenges of working within Awaken, I felt the sincerity and raw emotion from Jen as she shared that “personal choice” was one of her biggest challenges.
The relationship between the staff and the clients is very real. So, when clients struggle and make choices that I wouldn’t necessarily make for them, it’s really hard. To see them fall is difficult, and to see them run back can be heartbreaking. I know I take it hard, so I do what I need to do for me personally to take care of myself.
Jen is blessed to have a strong support group of friends, in addition to three goddaughters that light up her world. She looks to Jesus and the Church for added love and encouragement. Some of Jen’s favorite group activities include going to Fly High and rock climbing, “I love watching them push past their fears, make goals and achieve them.” Jen’s biggest dream for Awaken is getting a whole cul-de-sac for community living, “…where together we can equip one another to come into our true identity and take steps toward independence and freedom.”
Jen has changed the lives of clients, students, and the community. Through her passion for changing the culture surrounding commercial sexual exploitation, she has built a strong foundation for prevention and awareness and built timeless relationships with the clients she holds so dear. There is no better reward than putting your heart into something and creating joy.