Jen was preparing all through high school, with each grade earned and each college application sent. She was preparing when she focused her college studies on East Asia and religion. And was preparing when she supplemented her degree with fast-track executive management courses. And while busy preparing, her preparation led her to a flyer in the library announcing that Bucknell alumni Kerry Marks Hasenbalg, Founder of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), was speaking on campus. CCAI was and is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping facilitate adoptions, especially from overseas. Jen knew from reading the bio that she had done the things Jen had dreamed of: helping foster children in the U.S., working with child soldiers in Uganda, helping sick kids in China. She was Jen's in, her way of fulfilling the dreams that had blossomed from the pages of Reader’s Digest.
The night of the talk, Kerry walked into the auditorium briskly, wearing a navy suit, dark blonde hair falling down her back. She didn’t look left or right. She was clear. Focused. Jen sat in the front row and couldn’t take her eyes off her. As Kerry described meeting a former child soldier who now had a regular job and a family, Jen felt a quiet peace settle over her. There was a way to save these kids, and here was the path laid out before her. Jen knew she had to be part of CCAI after graduating in a few months.
Jen was the first one to rush to the podium when the talk ended.
“I have to work for you,” she told Kerry, managing to sound only slightly out of breath.
Kerry was putting away her notes into a big black tote bag, but she looked up. “I don't have a job for you. Sorry. We’re just not hiring. And our budget is quite small right now…”
She thanked Jen for my interest and politely told her to look elsewhere. Jen was determined to find another way in. She started following the organization online, checking everything she could. The CCAI logo was taped to her dorm-room door, and she found herself drifting to articles about its work constantly. And then, a month after Kerry’s talk, she saw the ad: the CCAI was hiring for an admin role.
Jen polished her resume and mailed it with an application letter before an hour had passed, and wasn’t surprised to get a call for an interview. She was surprised, however, when this organization she was meant to be a part of told her over the phone: “You're overqualified for this. This is not...look, listen. There's a job at the adoption agency above us. You should go interview for that.” Jen hung up the phone in stunned disbelief.
She applied for the adoption agency job. I can still help kids, and I’ll be close to the CCAI, she thought when her answering machine blinked red with a request for an interview. Months had passed since she had been told by God not to go to China, and Jen was still searching for the next step on her path. Maybe this was it.
In her best black suit, sitting across from an oak desk piled high with papers, she watched as a grey-haired man from the agency thumbed through her resume and frowned. He looked at Jen over the smallest of four stacks of canary-colored files. “Really, you should be working downstairs with CCAI.”
Jen was spending hours navigating the ramps and highways between DC and Lewisburg for these interviews. She was getting familiar with the street of white buildings and brick walk-ups. She was meant to be there, and this was getting ridiculous. Jen reached out to Kerry again: “The agency told me I need to work for you. I just want to be part of what you’re doing and I know I’ll be a good fit. It doesn’t have to be an impressive job. I'll sweep floors for you. Please. I know I’m meant to do this. I know I’m meant to help these kids.”
Kerry always was a badass and she wasn’t going to give Jen the runaround. “Fine―come down and talk to us.”
She had worn her down. At the end of the interview, after laying it all bare―all she had studied and her passion for helping children―Kerry just nodded. Just nodded. Can you imagine? So she took a big risk: Jen told her I felt guided by God to serve children. That lit her up. She was a believer. She took a long look at Jen, and Jen felt the hand of God at work. “I'm going to create this internship for you,” Kerry said. “You have six months, $12,000 a year and we'll see if we like you.”
...to be continued.