News - Breakthrough: Jennifer Jones

Posted by: DVULI | October 27, 2021

DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative

by Gerald Bell (Kansas City 2003) and Kimberlee Mitchell, Staff Writer

It’s not unusual for newly recruited DVULI participants to approach the 15-month learning journey unaware of their need for some finetuning in life and leadership. This was the case for Jennifer Jones (Grand Rapids 2006) when she stepped onto the “Maze Game” mat at her cohort’s first local workshop. The Maze Game is a simulated exercise that presents an opportunity for two teams to strategize how to save a community by discovering a common path to impact disadvantaged youth. Most cohorts discover late in the game that working together (rather than as two separate teams) is the best strategy to save their youth. “That was the most defining moment for me,” says Jennifer, a 20-year youth ministry veteran. “I remember thinking that I don’t want to ask for help. I need to figure out how to make sure I don’t mess this up for my teammates. I was so focused on the maze, trying to figure out how to do it [and was] super anxious in that moment.”

This first impression of the learning journey left Jennifer challenged to take the learning points from the simulated exercise and put them into practice in ministry. Like so many urban youth leaders, she was comfortable leading afterschool programming and summer outdoor recreation or training and developing youth and volunteers. The Maze Game revealed her tendency to avoid seeking help, guidance, or direction from others. “Initially, I felt like I was in a good place while doing ministry—thriving,” reflects Jennifer, who was working at Holland Teen Ministry under Maple Avenue Ministries. “I realized I was in survival mode, dispensing all that I [had to offer] to make sure the ministry, youth, and families had what they needed.”

Jennifer’s steps toward breakthrough were marked by her taking a deeper look at her network of like-minded youth leaders. That led her to consider how they could work together in their community. “One of my goals is to figure out how I can be a connection between youth-serving organizations and how to work better together,” notes Jennifer. “Our kids are all crossing each other’s paths. They go to the same churches and attend the same activities. What would it look like in Holland if we had a collaborative forum where youth workers could come and be trained, share resources, and connect?” The local Boys and Girls Club is a partnership that Jennifer has forged with Escape Ministries, where she serves as Associate Executive Director. The two organizations are sharing programmatic resources that include staff training, youth development opportunities, and addressing the needs of families in the community.

Jennifer learned to lean on accountability partners, including fellow DVULI alumna Denise Fase, another strong woman leading a local organization. “She is one of my go-to people. Denise makes sure that I am still aligning myself with those core values but also provides me with a safe space to check-in and help me navigate and process,” explains Jennifer. In this reciprocal accountability relationship, they cover hallowed ground ranging from personal to tactical in their ministries. “It’s great seeing interdependence lived out,” explains Jennifer. “I shouldn’t focus on my inadequacy of not being able to do something but rather focus on being connected to someone who’s going to love me enough and be willing to help me get through the situation.”

“I am a more balanced and grounded person since completing DVULI,” Jennifer says. “Not only because of the training but also and maybe more because of the network connection to others and doing life with them.”