Thursday, January 20, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Jennifer O'Rourke

First year mentor Jennifer O’Rourke was born in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton. She had a great childhood with her two younger brothers – playing outside a lot and going on road trips. Her favorite trip was a six week excursion out west to see Mount Rushmore, the Redwood Forests, and the Grand Canyon.

“What I love the most is to travel,” says Jennifer. Out of high school, she went to College of DuPage, a community college, for two years. There she was able to study abroad in London and Canterbury, England. After transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she went back to London and also to Australia.

“Traveling is a bit of a challenge,” she says. “You never know if it’s going to be easy or difficult.” Jennifer likes to arrive in a city with just a plane ticket out. She backpacks her way along, has to find places to stay, figure out the language, how to order food, etc. She is drawn to foreign places by their natural beauty. “[America] is a young country,” she says. “But the pyramids… the lost temples in Cambodia… they’re older than time.”

When it comes to college, Jennifer says to “look at the big picture.” It is exciting to go away, but it is important to consider how you will be financially placed after going to a university. She also says “everything is a challenge” in college. “It’s not going to come easy.” In the end, college is a great place to disqualify things you are not interested in and figure out what you truly love to do.

After graduation, Jennifer was still itching to travel the world! She would work in a local restaurant for a few months and then travel for a few months. Her travels in Southeast Asia and the Middle East got her interested in security and intelligence studies.

Therefore, ultimately, she moved to New York to work with a professor at New York University in religious studies with a concentration in Islam. Then, she applied to graduated school at the University of London, got in, and ended up getting her master’s degree in Middle East politics. Jennifer stayed in London working in finance for five years before moving back to Chicago. Right now she is looking for opportunities to transfer to government work.

Jennifer found out about Cabrini Connections through her brother Daniel who was a volunteer last year. She works with Jahia Williams on Thursday nights. “Jahia’s great,” she says. “I really, really like my mentee. She’s a big part of why I enjoy it so much.” Jennifer also says it’s easy to make Cabrini Connections and her relationship with Jahia a priority. “When I leave on Thursday, I don’t think, ‘I’m done now.’ I think, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

That is a great attitude to have, Jennifer! Thanks for being a part of the team!

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