Jennifer Adkins, who serves as a board member for Compassion Canada, was an ombudsperson for the National Energy Board and an Instructor at Trinity Western University, before going back to school full-time to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology. She has specialized and consulted in Race and Ethnic Relations for over 25 years in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors and brings her passion for justice and equity to the board. We recently connected with her for a feature in our Annual Report.
Compassion Canada: For people who are meeting you for the first time, what’s something you’d like them to know about who you are and what you do?
Jennifer Adkins: I think one of the main things that marks my life is that things never really came easy to me. Out of struggle, real resiliency was born. Over time I’ve learned that hard work, bouncing back from failures and working toward goals in increments enables small successes that have allowed me to realize bigger goals. Over time I’ve discovered what I love and have realized that confidence comes with life experience, which, in turn, has enabled me to discover and do things I love, like teaching and pursuing a Ph.D.
CC: How long have you served on Compassion Canada’s Board and what drew you to the role?
JA: Joining Compassion’s Board was a multi-year process. I’ve been on different boards and being a board member isn’t something I aspired to do. I was just starting my Ph.D., so I wasn’t really thinking about it. I know the work involved. And then I got a call from Andrew [Johnson] to talk about the role. I did a lot of research. When we met and he shared the vision of the organization, I realized I support everything Compassion does and wanted to be on the Board. I am blessed to serve on it and have served since 2016.
CC: Where have you travelled with Compassion and what is a highlight from your travels?
JA: I went to Nicaragua and it was eye-opening. You can read all about what Compassion’s work is like, but to see it is absolutely inspiring. You watch the excitement of the children or staff and you watch when they start telling you stories about what has transformed their lives. You watch young women who’ve received vocational training and you get to say: “They’re really doing this!” It’s not something theoretical any more that you dream up in your head. You move from trusting that your money is put to work to seeing people benefit from it. You get to see the impact.
The highlight for me was seeing the work of the Survival Program up close. These tiny preemie babies receiving love from the staff. How they pour love into the mothers and give them the confidence that they can take care of their babies so they’ll be healthy. That was rewarding. I think we can learn from that in Canada.
CC: What’s something that sponsoring children through Compassion has taught you?
JA: I haven’t been great with keeping up writing letters to our sponsored children. That has been one thing that comes to mind when I think of sponsoring and I find the children are so gracious. They’re not holding it against me. They’re not upset. Their happiness blows me away. And it is really humbling.
CC: As an organization, Compassion is committed to key Behavioural Values, among them to be “Serious About Personal Growth,” which you model so well. As you look to the upcoming fiscal year, what ways are you looking to grow personally and how do you hope Compassion will grow as an organization?
JA: I am excited to see how Compassion has handled the pandemic so far. We recently had a quick finance audit committee meeting and I left the meeting with such confidence. I don’t know if I could handle that type of pressure. And I think that Allison and the Executive Leadership Team are handling leadership in the midst of COVID-19 so well. They don’t seem stressed. They don’t seem worried. They are clearly trusting God through it and at the same time are being really creative.
So, my hope would be that some really unique processes come out of this and that Compassion will be able to learn a new way of inviting future sponsors and give them the opportunity to get to know the organization better. But I’m also going to pray that this unexpected year will produce organizational resilience so that Compassion achieves things that no one ever imagined achieving.
CC: Tell us about the field of study for your Ph.D. How is it shaping you?
JA: Interracial marriages are under-studied in Canada, and at first it felt too close to home, too personal, to focus on this subject for my Ph.D. For my Master’s Degree, I studied employment equity and looked at how women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people and people with disabilities are placed in the job market. There was a real burden to that work. So, as I considered my Ph.D. research, the more I looked, the more it bothered me how interracial marriages were represented in studies.
It seemed to me that the research was missing the target and there was so little discussion about how people in interracial relationships deal with responses from the outside and how, in my research focus, they bring their own ideas of blackness and whiteness into marriage. So my research looks at how interracial couples challenge racial boundaries.
What I think that these relationships point to is the ability to become family with the “other”—interracial marriages highlight that this is being done. There’s a possibility of loving someone as yourself, even if they look different from you.
CC: You have a passion for justice and have dedicated most of your career to race and ethnic relations. As we look back over the last few months during which a call to address systemic racial injustice swept across North America and around the world, what about this important social moment stands out to you? How do we dig into this conversation at Compassion and not ignore it?
JA: I think that talking about racial injustice and acknowledging what’s taking place is so important. For some in the church, it can seem like it’s impolite to talk about such issues as “polite Canadians.” And North American Christianity often presents itself as: “I got it all together. Everything’s great. We all just love each other.” As a result, the real conversations happen after church, outside the church, in homes.
So, like the church, I’d say organizations can make room for having the real conversations.
If there’s a minority of people of colour on staff, there’s a good chance the majority really don’t know what they’re feeling or experiencing. And so having that freedom to have those discussions—if people of colour want to share or if somebody feels there’s an issue that they should share—is important.
I would say that compassionate work is to ask, “Do we show compassion for people, racialized individuals, Indigenous people openly in Canada as we do the work elsewhere?” I think that there really should be an earnest search of where organizations stand and how to live out these values in Canada as they do the work they do internationally.
CC: What’s one thing you’re excited about as you look toward Compassion’s upcoming fiscal year?
JA: I’m excited about Compassion’s leadership and the vibrancy that I see at Compassion. I see such excitement and belief in what staff are doing. I think leaders have really gone out of their way to hire some brilliant, outstanding staff who are sincere, with a strong belief in Christ. It’s amazing to see what’s produced with such an employee group. There’s been a lot of changes and it just will take Compassion to a new place.
This interview is part of a series featuring the talent and wisdom of Compassion Canada’s Board of Directors, portions of which first appeared in our Annual Report.