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Beyond the Comfort Zone: Wendy's Journey to a Community-Centered Career

This week, we interview En Root featured author Wendy Jeffries, Executive Director of TasteWise Kids, to learn about her journey of community engagement and impact. Wrapping up our month of content dedicated to showcasing how others are making a difference locally, Wendy leaves us with great food for thought. Happy reading!

Tell us about your most significant moment of community engagement or impact.

Getting the opportunity to live, volunteer, and travel in South Africa for two months. The year after I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to go to South Africa to work as a volunteer consultant for a non-profit that was creating a new HIV-AIDS education program for their school.

While in college, I had spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain and then traveled around Europe. I loved this time and so was very excited for another opportunity to go abroad. I knew, however, this would be a very different kind of experience and I definitely wanted to make it happen.

To do it, I had to ask my job (of only six months) for a leave of absence. I was prepared for them to say no and so I was ready to quit if needed because this was an opportunity I was not going to pass up. Instead, they were willing to work with me to give me a leave of absence. Spending two months in South Africa, working with educators and other professionals and traveling was one of the best experiences I've ever had.

What is the biggest lesson you learned through this experience?

Two lessons: 1) You won't know how someone will respond unless you ask/talk to them. 2) Do things outside of your comfort zone.

How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?

Too many ways to describe. Let's just say South Africa and this experience will always hold a dear place in my heart no matter what else I do or accomplish.

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Be confident in your ideas and abilities.

What are some words of wisdom that you would offer students exploring the possibility of an immersive community experience?

Do it! You will learn more then you would think possible.

What is your favorite quote?

"In the end it's not the years in your life that counts, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

What's next? How do you plan to remain dedicated to your community in your job or personal life in 2019?

By listening to podcasts while I run. One of my favorites right now is Women Rule by Politico.

Wendy Jeffries is the Executive Director of TasteWise Kids. She has over 15 years of experience delivering innovative protocols, programs, and evaluation methods to schools, organizations and agencies. Wendy earned a Masters of Public Policy from Georgetown University, a B.A. in Government and a Certificate in International Relations from Wesleyan University. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and two daughters.

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