20 Under 40: Lennae Jenkins | SteamboatToday.com

20 Under 40: Lennae Jenkins

Lennae Jenkins (Photo by John F. Russell)

A trip to Africa during college changed Lennae Jenkins’ perspective on life.

The 2002 Steamboat Springs High School graduate was a teaching assistant at Pacific University in Oregon and accompanied her professor to Zambia for the summer to work at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, a primate sanctuary. While there, she realized there was no school for the children in the surrounding community, so she came back to Steamboat, lived in her parents’ basement and single-handedly raised $20,000 to build a school in the village the following summer.

The two-classroom school that Jenkins funded has grown to four buildings and offers local children an education through high school. The government now operates the school, and the sanctuary raises money to pay for things like additional curriculum to support conservation and animal protection.

“I realized how important it is to see the world and see other perspectives and other cultures, and not to go and try to change others but to just enrich yourself,” Jenkins said.

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That experience further cemented Jenkins’ passion for education and teaching, which was something she gravitated to as a teen working at summer camps and afterschool programs run by the city.

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Jenkins, who also earned a master’s degree in early childhood special education, now serves as director of the North Routt Community Charter School Early Childhood Center, a position she accepted in fall 2019 after teaching at Steamboat Montessori School and Holy Name Preschool.

Jenkins is passionate about the charter school’s educational philosophy that revolves around the mission of “challenging young lives to explore beyond four walls through expeditions and outdoor discovery.”

“We can still teach academics and go mountain biking. We can still teach kids how to read and go skiing three times a week,” Jenkins said. “And the parents see value in what we’re doing. They love that we are connecting the passions they have to school, which makes school that much more valuable to their little children.”

The 37-year-old has gained a reputation as an enthusiastic leader. When the school didn’t have a bus driver available this summer, Jenkins got her bus license so she could take her preschoolers on field trips.

Alexis Wolf, who nominated Jenkins for 20 Under 40 recognition, describes her as a “fierce advocate for children,” specifically children with special needs.

“She is one of the most motivated and inspirational people I am privileged to know and count as a colleague,” Wolf said. “Once Lennae has set her mind on a goal, there is nothing that will stop her from achieving it. She is the perfect example of knowing that you will never get something if you do not ask for it, and then if she hears an answer that she doesn’t like, she comes back with more information and a different approach until her goals are met.”

Jenkins views herself as a leader who is growing. She said she has handled a lot over the past two years, including a pandemic and merging the preschool into the charter school, but she persevered.

“I went from running a private 501(c)(3) to now being part of the charter school,” Jenkins said. “It was a huge undertaking, and amidst all of that, our preschool program has doubled in enrollment and our toddler program almost quadrupled.

“I’ve worked really hard, with the support of Brandon (LaChance, executive director of the charter school), to create a program that has really high caliber teachers and parallels the philosophy that the charter school has.”

When Jenkins is not working, the newlywed enjoys camping, hiking and skiing with her husband, Ross Lunger, and their dog.

“I try to find a good balance between work and home,” Jenkins said. “We live here for a reason, and we like to enjoy our surroundings.”

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