Jennifer Henry, the new executive director of Kairos, takes her career-long walk with those striving for social justice to the next level. Photo: Contributed
As a student at the University of Winnipeg, Jennifer Henry remembers vividly the walk from the school to the legislature in -40 degree weather. No threat of frostbite could keep her from standing in solidarity with Salvadoran friends who had fled the brutal civil war in El Salvador.
“They weren’t prepared to be satisfied with the poverty and the repression and the violence that was around them,” says Henry, now 45, and the new executive director of the ecumenical social justice organization, Kairos. Instead, Henry told the Journal, the refugees set out “…to claim the promise of abundant life that God offered and to say we deserve this too…. I was very moved by that.”
Henry has been walking with people struggling against violence and striving for justice ever since. Most recently, as manager of Kairos’ Rights and Dignity and Fundraising teams, she worked to help the organization recover from a 2009 crisis when the federal government cut its 35-year funding relationship with the organization, eliminating $7 million from its budget.
Prior to that, Henry acted as team leader of organizational development and movement building. One of her main responsibilities was organizing Kairos’ first big national gathering in Kitchener-Waterloo in 2009, which put a special emphasis on attracting young adults. From 2002 to 2007, she held the position of team leader for animation, communications and education. During those years, she worked to raise Kairos’ profile, consolidate its regional structures and networks, and run engaging campaigns that would give people the resources to take action in their own communities.
In 2001 and 2002, just after Kairos was formed as an amalgamation of other social justice coalitions, Henry worked as an education and networking specialist. She helped combine all the databases from the former groups into one for Kairos and established its electronic newsletter, Kairos Times, which is still used to get the word out to its networks and grassroots members.
These days, the priority for Henry is to create a sustainable future for Kairos. As an Anglican, she is all too familiar with demographic challenges such as aging members and declining numbers, which is what Kairos currently faces among its 11 church and faith-based supporters.
Her experience as the mother of eight year-old daughter, Bella, is also fuelling Henry’s passion for social justice these days. “You just know that what you hope for your child, every mother everywhere in the world hopes for their child,” she says.