Jenna’s Journey: Grateful, Gregarious and (Always) Grinning
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.
So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Jenna Clark’s journey leading up to her Doane experience is not one people would volunteer to experience themselves.
Growing up in Gothenburg, Nebraska, a stable, small-town community surrounded her.
This was in stark contrast to her home life.
Life wasn't always perfect and struggles from home growing up were hidden behind a smile – until a high school counselor could see through the smile.
He was the first person she opened up to about her life behind closed doors.
Since then, Jenna has gleaned strength and purpose from her upbringing. She gained insight on who she wanted to be – and be with.
“I wanted something different than what I saw growing up,” Jenna said.
She married her high school sweetheart, Patrick, after her freshman year at Doane University. This made for an untraditional college experience, as Jenna moved to Seward to live with her husband who played football at Concordia University.
“My journey is probably not what most people would prefer because I did miss out on the typical dorm life and sorority stuff and all the things that my friends were a part of,” Jenna said. “For me, it was the right decision, it was just very different than all my peers. The great thing about that, though, is the professors and people at Doane work[ed] with me just the same.”
She commuted to the Crete campus and took summer classes on the Lincoln campus to graduate a semester early in 2006.
Initially an elementary education major, Jenna switched to psychology. She realized she didn’t feel comfortable having someone watch her teach and give feedback.
“But then I took Danelle DeBoer’s intro to sociology class and it was like my eyes were open,” Jenna said. “From that moment on, the psych classes, the social classes they just helped me understand all the ways that I could use the unfortunate events of my life – not necessarily to help someone – but in a healthy way.”
She put her experience and education to work in her first full-time job after graduation. She started as a child advocate at the Center for Survivors in Columbus, Nebraska. Thanks to a grant, Jenna was able to travel to high schools and talk in small groups of girls about healthy relationships. This evolved into Jenna and the Center teaching classes at high schools every semester.
As her job duties expanded, so did her family. Jenna and Patrick welcomed their first son, Grady, in the same year as her graduation in 2006. Then, when she was 25 years old and six months pregnant with her second son, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“It just totally rocked our world,” Jenna remembered.
With where she was in her pregnancy and the stage of her cancer, there was a one-week window for surgery to keep both mom and baby safe. The surgery and birth were both successful as the couple welcomed Gavin in 2009.
But Jenna wasn’t out of the woods. With Gavin safely delivered, she started on cancer treatment.
“I felt terrible for weeks on end,” Jenna said. “And my husband became the primary caretaker, because there were days where I was sleeping like 12 to 16 hours at a time due to the treatment.”
At one point, she had to quarantine for more than two weeks. As the mom of a newborn, this quarantine was especially difficult.
The hardships didn’t stop there.
“Living paycheck to paycheck,” working at “essentially minimum wage” with a young family, medical bills piling up and a husband working toward his master’s on a teacher’s salary caused Jenna to reconsider her career.
She took a new job at the foster care review office and provided feedback on foster care cases and caseworkers. But after 18 months, Jenna realized she missed working directly with people, especially those she was helping.
She took her penultimate job at Columbus High School as a school interventionist. It required all her strongest skills and passions working with teens who had attendance, social or emotional issues. And she could draw on her own experiences when working with the students.
But as the sole source of a safe listening space for students, teachers and staff dealing with trauma and issues, Jenna felt the emotional burden became too heavy.
For the previous two years, Jenna had been selling makeup and skincare products on the side through SeneGence International.
“To be honest, at the beginning, it just looked fun,” Jenna said. “And I needed something fun back in my life.”
She eventually was doing well enough to quit her job at Columbus High School and work full time for SeneGence International.
For nearly six years now, Jenna has worked at a job that has the direct service she craves without any emotional burden. It’s provided her with flexibility and a self-confidence boost. And she sees her job as providing that same opportunity for other women.
As a certified field leader trainer, Jenna travels around the country training individuals who want to start their own business as she did. She’s also in charge of teaching consultants how to give back in their own communities – a favorite part of her job.
Jenna’s upbringing and past hardships have shaped her into who she is today: gracious for what she's been through – and continues to go through.
Because despite treatment, Jenna’s doctor advised her to look at her cancer as a long-term disease. Her tumor markers are present again but don’t require any action right now other than regular check-ins and medication.
Yet Jenna looks at her cancer diagnosis at 25 as a “huge blessing in disguise.”
“[I] was encouraged not to have any more children,” Jenna said. “So here we are, these young adults just out of college, now we have two kids going through [my] cancer journey. But looking back, it all worked out.”
Today, Gavin is in sixth grade and Grady is a freshman, attending the same high school his dad teaches geography and history at.
“Grady has requested to not have his dad as a teacher because Patrick is very animated,” Jenna smiled. “I hear he dances in class.”
And with her job flexibility, she’s able to dedicate more time and availability to her boys.
Life has a funny way of working out – the punchline just takes a while sometimes.
Because when you’re living life – getting married, having kids, working jobs – you’re on a straight path forward. It’s easy to view anything incongruent with your plans – sickness, job loss, uncertainty – as an end to that path.
But you’re still on your path. You just pick up hardships along the way, as Jenna has learned. Hardships that make you stronger or allow you to build something you couldn’t without them.
Like a family of four. An optimistic outlook. Jenna’s journey.