As a Westmont student, Jenise Steverding ’97 began a practice she has continued to this day: putting herself in one uncomfortable situation after another. Some of these challenges, such as working in the inner city amidst poverty and violence, nearly overwhelmed her. But each one taught her more about herself — and about God.
By reaching out, the naturally shy woman discovered she loved people. Through travel she developed an interest in different cultures. As a volunteer she became passionate about helping children. Even when she struggled to make sense of her faith in a world filled with pain, she found God guiding her, sometimes just one step at a time.
At Westmont, Jenise chose a major in sociology and a minor in business and economics, took a Mayterm trip to Europe and spent a semester in the San Francisco Urban Program. But she had no idea what she wanted to do when she graduated. To pay the bills, she held four very different jobs with Santa Barbara businesses. She learned a lot about her management abilities but found little satisfaction in the work, so she moved to the Bay Area in search of a more meaningful position with a non-profit organization.
After several years writing grant proposals for a department at Stanford University, she got a position where she finally felt at home even though it was temporary and part time: interim director of operations for the Urban Program. Remembering her own questions and anguish about the inner city, she provided the kind mentoring for students that helped her make sense of her own experience.
“You have to try things before you know what you are good at and what you enjoy,” she says. “I learned it didn’t matter what job I had, God would teach me what He needed me to know in each situation and move me to where he was taking me. The important thing was consulting him.”
Nearly 30, Jenise enrolled in SDA Bocconi University, a business school in Milan, Italy, where she earned a master’s degree in public management. Returning to school after eight years was hard enough, but living in a country where she didn’t speak the language proved even more challenging. “It was the most alone I have ever been,” she says. But the truly difficult part of her graduate work awaited her in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she did an internship in urban renewal for the township of Alexandra. Her first few days in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, she feared for her life. “Fortunately, things got better the longer I stayed,” she says.
“Westmont prepares you how to live a full life rooted in Christ if you let it,” she says. “I had worked through so much pain and injustice in San Francisco that in South Africa, I was able to pour myself into the community.”
When she returned to the United States, a temporary position with a relief and development organization led to a full-time, permanent job. As director of advancement, programs and administration for Giving Children Hope, Jenise works to alleviate poverty around the world. The position brings together the skills and passions she has developed over the years: managing a program, helping children and working cross-culturally. GHC has programs in Africa, South and Central America and Asia, but they also respond to U.S. emergencies such as Katrina and the 2007 San Diego wildfires. “I love my job,” she says. “It’s so important to me to do something I can believe in.”