Jennifer Kitson Jelenek
A community-centered world traveler.
Jennifer Kitson Jelenek found her appetite for adventure while volunteering in Argentina in high school. Stepping outside her comfort zone, the experience sparked a lifelong desire in her to see and change the world. Later, while earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Arizona State University (ASU), she volunteered monthly with a nonprofit in Mexico, and it is there she discovered a passion for building communities from the ground up.
After graduation, Jennifer worked for both ASU and the City of Phoenix before joining the Peace Corps. She then flew halfway around the world to Moldova, where she worked with a regional development agency to improve the nation’s infrastructure and economy. When Jennifer returned to the U.S., she earned a Master’s degree from New York University and later served as director of City of New York’s Business Improvement District (BID) Program. In this position, she oversaw the city’s network of 75 BIDs and was able to coordinate with the mayor’s office, city council and other governmental agencies to provide streamlined support to the city’s neighborhoods.
Today, Jennifer uses her vast knowledge of strategic data, urban planning and community-based development at Southwest Michigan First. Able to handle any problem that comes her way, her values and experience help her to make Southwest Michigan a better place to live and work.
Though Jennifer has a long wish-list of places in the world to visit, she and her husband Josh love to get outdoors and enjoy everything that Michigan offers. Whenever they can, they love to run, spend time along the Lake Michigan shoreline or go for a long hike to enjoy the fresh air and natural scenery. Jennifer has even been known to set up camp for a wilderness adventure not far from home.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau