It is hard to believe that Jennifer Jenkins was a teenage drop-out as you watch her in her daily role as the general manager at PepsiCo in Frederick, Md. She is the only female in PepsiCo’s Frederick market to hold this position.
“I was a rebel and always in trouble. I had attended several different facilities to try to amend my behavior,” said Jenkins, who originally is from Hagerstown but now calls Falling Waters, W.Va., home. “My parents were divorced when I was very young and there was constant turmoil in my life.”
She was sent to the Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Rockville, Md., and other facilities across the Tri-State area.
“Through juvenile services there were also other programs I tried, but I still continued to get into trouble,” she said.
When Jenkins turned 15 years old, there was an opportunity to place her at San Mar Children’s Home as part of a group therapy home for one year.
San Mar Children’s Home was established in 1883, when it was known as the Washington County Orphan’s Home. It was set up during the Civil War when the community expressed a concern for the orphan children of the area, the concern that they had no apparent place to live.
In 1981, the name officially changed to reflect the move to the community of San Mar. In 1987, the board of managers at that time decided that the need of the community had changed and a decision was made to specialize in care to adolescent and pre-adolescent girls.
My mentality was this is just another place, I told myself they don’t care about me. I am here to do my time and get out,” Jenkins recalled. “I just need to stick it out; I thought all these places were the same. It’s just another place where they will try and contain me and try to control.”
Jenkins said she quickly found out that San Mar was different than other places she had attended. She said she found that when she was there that Chief Executive Officer Bruce Anderson, who continues to hold that position today, was a driving force behind that feeling.
“Anderson is very passionate about his role in helping kids, and he took a different approach to helping me,” Jenkins said. “He wanted to find something that I could focus my negative energy on and be good at. I was interested in cycling, but there was a catch.”
After agreeing that she would go to school, not be truant and get straight A’s, Anderson agreed to allow Jenkins to participate in something she had shown an interest in, and an activity that was a passion for him — cycling.
“I started training with Ellen Savoy. She is in charge of the foster care program at San Mar,” Jenkins said. “After months of training, I was showing commitment to the sport, while still keeping up my end of the deal and going to school and doing well with my grades.”
The first ride Jenkins had with Anderson was a 100-mile stretch from Frostburg, Md., to Boonsboro.
“It was a very challenging day,” she recalled. “I was 15 years old and the only child riding in the event. It was very empowering to me as I was at the front of the pack despite only training for several months when many of the adults had been doing this for years. This not only empowered me but motivated me, and probably made me realize for the first time in my life that I could do something — if I made the commitment to be really good at it.”
After experiencing several different facilities Jenkins admits that the personal touch of the staff at San Mar makes for a well-rounded program.
“I did well at San Mar. I had my challenges, of course, but the staff there guided me rather than only trying to control me. They taught me skills that would help me when I left the facility,” Jenkins said.
The journey to Pepsi was a tough challenge as well. When she first started at PepsiCo, at 17 years old, Jenkins found out she was pregnant.
“This was when I really started to reflect on what I had learned at San Mar. I am going to have to balance a checkbook, I am going to have to find a job and look after my child,” she said. “I didn’t want to be in the same position as my mother and have a child who got into trouble because of an unstable home environment.”
One of her accomplishments was that she graduated from school.
“Because of all the time I had spent locked up, I had really fallen behind at school — I was a very capable student. I essentially did four years of high school in three years so I could graduate on time,” she said.