From the beginning, Jen Wolff learned how important personal connection is to the Kiwanis family. It’s a benefit that has stuck with her to the present day, both as an active Circle K alumnus and a current Kiwanis club member.
In fact, Jen might never have heard of Circle K or the larger Kiwanis family at all—except for her connection to a Circle K member during her freshman year at Towson University in Maryland.
“My roommate and I were walking through the student union,” Jen says. “The Circle K club was recruiting there, and my roommate joined. She swore she would get me to join.”
It took until Jen’s junior year, but when she finally joined the club, she was all in. She even became the vice president of the Towson University chapter within a week—and eventually helped the club’s membership double. After all, she had already learned a key lesson about recruiting from her roommate.
“It’s like we say in Kiwanis: people join people, not clubs.”
Member and mentor
Like many alumni, Jen has great memories of the service and fellowship of her Circle K days. And now that she’s a district administrator, she even sees her fondness for former advisors in a new light. But during her college years, it took a while to comprehend the full value of that mentorship.
“I didn’t have much exposure to Kiwanians,” she says. “I saw the same two Kiwanis members at our events, and I went to a few Kiwanis meetings where we sat and ate chicken and otherwise just stayed at our table. I didn’t have an understanding of the special relationship between Kiwanians and our Service Leadership Programs until I joined the CKI district board as a committee chair.”
It became even clearer during one Capital District event, when the Kiwanian John Tyner let some CKI members room at his home in Rockville, Maryland.
“I remember thinking, ‘Who would let 20 college kids they don’t know stay at their house?’” Jen says. “Now I am that Kiwanian. Every year at that first board meeting, I’ll have a few bewildered CKI board members say to me, ‘I can’t believe you’re letting us all stay here.’ I always think of John when I do something like that, and I get a good laugh. I didn’t understand what a true Kiwanian was until I met John Tyner.”
Her experience also gives her insights into the importance of membership. As a student and a Kiwanian, Jen has seen how much it can mean to a young adult—and the difference a committed mentor can make.
“Until Circle K, I didn’t know I had all these things in me—facilitation during leadership training, standing in front of people and speaking, that kind of thing,” Jen says. “It made me realize what I’m capable of, what I didn’t think was possible.”
A Kiwanis-family family
When Jen first met Jeffrey Wolff, he was a Kiwanian on the Capital District Committee for CKI. At the time, she says, Jeffrey was just “the young, cool Kiwanian, the guy who’d show us his latest techie toy, like a new tablet—this was way before iPads were around.”
A few years later, she was a college graduate and became a member of the Tysons Corner/McLean Kiwanis Club in Virginia. “I remember walking into the club and saying, ‘What are you doing here?’” Jen says. “And he said, ‘Well, I’m a member here.’”
That was just the beginning of what became a lifelong relationship. Jen and Jeffrey are married now and have three children. And they continue to have the Kiwanis family in common too. Even if fate hadn’t brought her and Jeffrey into each other’s lives, Jen says, she would be a Kiwanian and a CKI advisor. But it’s a definite advantage for both of them to be Kiwanis leaders and CKI advisors.
“We always joke that if we were married to someone who wasn’t in Kiwanis, they wouldn’t understand,” she says.
In fact, Jen first got reacquainted with Circle K when she joined the Capital District’s CKI committee as a zone administrator while Jeff was the CKI district administrator. And when Jeff stepped down in 2010, Jen stepped up. She has been the district administrator since then.
In her seven years as a Kiwanian, Jen has also been a two-term distinguished president of the Tysons Corner/McLean Kiwanis Club and a Capital Kiwanis distinguished lieutenant governor. In addition, she is currently the editor of the district’s publication, The Capital Kiwanian.
Being a CKI alumnus has been a benefit to Jen even beyond her family (and the Kiwanis family). A graphic designer, Jen got her first job out of college thanks to her CKI membership. She interviewed for a design position with a rural advocacy group, and after some “back and forth,” she says, she was hired.
“A few months down the road, the person who hired me mentioned that it had been between me and another person,” Jen adds. “I said, ‘What made you choose me?’ She said, ‘You had on your resume that you did club building and membership work, and we wanted someone with a membership background who could also be a sounding board for us.’
“It was a graphic design job,” she adds, “but because of my experience at CKI, I had an advantage.”
Now she helps current members create that kind of advantage through service experience and leadership skills. And she believes CKI members and young alumni will provide a mutual benefit for Kiwanis clubs and members who stay involved with the program.
“I think Kiwanis is trending in that direction—becoming more and more accepting of what younger members bring to the table,” she says.
And when it comes to club membership, Jen believes younger Circle K alumni should be proactive too. “It’s such a fulfilling thing to do in a world that’s so busy,” she says. “Talking to people who aren’t in a Kiwanis club, they sometimes tell me they visited a club and it just wasn’t for them. But it might have been just that club.
“I tell them, ‘That might not have been the one, but keep looking for one—or even build one that works for you.’”