“When you cannot change the world, make your corner smile.”
Those are the words Jeni Elkins lives by. She has balanced motherhood, a career in the technology industry, and her responsibility to her community all while dodging the rocks life has thrown at her.
Jeni’s mother and grandparents raised her to have an open heart. They were always helping somebody. “It’s just something we do,” she explained. Jeni grew into a person who is always looking for ways to improve the lives around her.
One of the most important ways she has done that is through adoption. As a child, she read a book called “The Family No One Wanted,” about a Methodist couple that adopted a dozen children from multiple ethnic backgrounds, at a time when it just was not allowed. The anecdotes about love, family, and overcoming obstacles inspired Jeni to bring lost children into her family, even if she could conceive on her own.
Now Jeni is writing her own book, “Chosen Family,” to share her unique adoption story with other families.
Jeni and her husband met their children in 2007. It was supposed to be the first meeting of many before an adoption could take place, but the agency encountered an issue with the children’s situation. They needed to make a decision right away.
The Elkins scurried to find a hotel. Other applicants were vying for the same group of kids, but Jeni and her husband wanted to be nearby in case they were chosen.
They were chosen. For a few months, everything was a dream. The Elkins’ first trip together was to the Wonderlab in Bloomington, where they bonded over STEM projects and creativity. Their family had grown by two daughters and a son.
Tragedy befell them when, over the next two years, Jeni lost fourteen people who were very close to her. One of them was her husband, who passed just months after the adoption of their children. The stress gave her an ulcer in her leg, a serious medical condition that confined her to a wheelchair.
Jeni was a single mother of three teenagers, so she could not give up.
From her wheelchair she started a business called Discoveries Unlimited, to honor her late husband. It was a STEM program that paired interested middle school girls with mentors from the community. As a veteran Webmaster in charge of a 50 person team, she was familiar with the lack of female influence in the industry. Girls are not encouraged to be scientists and engineers. Statistics for STEM careers reflect that.
“Like many of us in the field, we were worried who the next workers are going to be. We’re not going to have technicians if people don’t want to be technicians.”
Her program, though closed now for a lack of resources, showed young girls what it would be like to pursue different fields.
“We’re not going to have a future without them,” Jeni explained. “You have got to be able to show them what they are capable of and what they can accomplish.”
Jeni is often asked to speak at conventions and luncheons about the different things she has faced in life. She talks to her peers about being a woman in a Business industry, about raising three kids on her own, and about living through sexual abuse. Her blog, Torn in Half, is a resource for women who have lost their spouses.
“I’m trying to use my experience to help others. That’s what it’s all about, making my life count for something. When life throws you a lot of lemons, you learn to make margaritas.”