Our Inspiring Women Series features women who’ve made bold life changes in pursuit of their dreams and daring ambitions. Today, we’re featuring Jenn Younger, who recently left her cozy Corporate job to travel to Guatemala, and continue the humanitarian work her Grandfather started over 40 years ago.
Jenn, you recently quit your day job to pursue your passion outside of work. What inspired you to make that leap?
I have been in the wine and spirits industry for the past 18 years and for most of that time I truly loved it and built a very successful career. However, over the past several years I found myself overly stressed, not truly enjoying my life and losing my way. In addition, my health was starting to suffer from the stress- I'd gained weight, I developed shingles last year (stress-driven) and every single sign in my life was a giant red flag telling me the path I was on was simply not the right one.
At the same time, I became reacquainted and involved with an organization my grandfather founded 40 years ago, Hospital de la Familia. It is a non-profit organization that funds a hospital and educational programs for the very poor and rural community around the hospital, in Nuevo Progreso, Guatemala. It's located in the very northwest corner of the country, about 20 miles from the Mexican border. One day I just realized that I needed to get out of my job and go to Guatemala. It was truly like a message from the universe saying, "you need to go to Guatemala”, and I remember the exact moment it happened. 90 days later I had left my job and was in Guatemala.
Tell us a bit more about this Hospital and why it’s important to you?
My grandfather was one of three founders of the hospital and he physically built it (he was a builder by trade) with the local people to help. This was in 1976 in the midst of a very violent and tragic civil war in the country. The area surrounding the hospital is primarily indigenous Maya and the need for healthcare and education is tremendous. Guatemala is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere behind Haiti. The average woman has 11 children and the national literacy rate is 70%. The rural literacy rate is much lower as education is less available.
I traveled to the hospital for the first time when I was 17 and a self-involved high school cheerleader. It literally changed my life. Since then, I have traveled to the hospital 7 times, always when we had US medical teams visiting (they go 5-7 times per year). Unfortunately, over the past 15 years I lost touch and didn't go. Last year I went back with a medical team and that trip was pivotal. I think I've always known that I was probably the one in my family to continue my grandfather's efforts because we shared a true love of the culture and people of Guatemala. I know he knew that I understood it. I am not quite sure how to explain it but I have always known this project was my reason for being on this planet. So here I am.
Does any part of this decision scare you?
Absolutely, it's very scary. I've left a solid career and I'm not sure where this is headed or how I'm going to transition into another role to make money. However, I also know without question this is the right path and I'm just opening my arms to the universe, talking to everyone I know and seeing what comes up. Thus far I haven't been disappointed! The generosity I've encountered with people wanting to help, provide contacts, it's been incredible.
What is next for you?
After the 6 weeks I just spent in Guatemala, I learned so much. Mostly I learned how much I have to learn! There's a lot to do. The trip solidified my confidence in myself to make needed changes. Also, that I'm the exact right person to take this organization to the next generation and level.
What advice would you have for other women looking to pursue their passion that haven’t made the leap?
Trust your gut. It's never wrong. When you're going in the right direction, doors will open and the universe provides the answers- you just have to be open to seeing and hearing them so be aware of who you meet, what they're saying and how they fit into your plan. If you feel a weird urge that you need to meet that person in line at the coffee shop, do it! Keep an open mind and get out of your comfort zone. When things start to move forward it's an incredible thing to witness.
If people are interested in learning more, please contact me via email, or visit our website. Our website has a link to donate, as well as a calendar with travel dates for 2019. We always need medical volunteers (especially nurses!) and translators. Even if people just want to help, we always find work for them too. There is plenty to do. In addition to the hospital, we fund a nursing school, sewing school, elementary school and a nutrition clinic for malnourished babies. It truly is a community support in so many ways.
My hope and dream is not to change the world but to help provide an opportunity for people in Nuevo Progreso and the surrounding area to obtain an education, learn a trade and provide for their families. Hopefully we can create a door to escape the poverty and allow the people to be a force for change for their own community.
That is when we will see progress.