Jen Walker radiates energy even when she’s sitting still. After a stellar career in advertising and public relations, she has channeled that energy into a series of high-impact volunteer roles and continues to contribute to our community in a multitude of ways.
A natural leader, Jen has served on many boards and applied her vast experience to making every organization she touches better. As you look across the non-profit work she has done, significant themes emerge: education, healthcare, and empowerment.
Examples of the roles Jen has held include President of the Greater Naples Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Board member of the League of Women Voters, Board member of First Book-Collier County (now Books for Collier Kids), Foundation Board member of Collier Health Services (now the Healthcare Network SWFL), Board Chair of Collier County Foundation (CCF), and of course multiple Board positions with GNL. In every case she has harnessed the knowledge and skills of all involved to tackle tough problems and lead positive change. In recognition of this tireless work, Jen was awarded the GNL Distinguished Leadership Award in 2017.
Jen and her husband Alan, a musician and educator, started coming to Naples as snowbirds in the early 1990’s, became residents in 1996, and made Naples their year-round home in 2012. For Jen, retirement meant an opportunity to extend her reach to help improve the community. She wanted to expand her knowledge of Collier County, so she applied to GNL and was accepted to Class IX.
“I came away from every Session Day so eager to contribute,” she says. “I wanted to do everything! But, of course, I had to focus my efforts and really appreciate how GNL helped me do that.”
Upon graduation she got involved with GNL committees and was soon serving on the Board, first as Communication Committee Chair, then Vice President and in 2010 as President.
“GNL was a life-changing experience!” Jen says with a bright smile. “Before GNL, I didn’t know as much about Collier County as I thought. It was such a joy to be with successful men and women from a wide variety of professions as we received an in-depth education about the County.”
A political science graduate from Douglas College, Rutgers University, Jen went on to earn a master’s in International Relations and African Studies at UCLA. Like other women at that time, her first job was as a secretary despite her advanced degree. But her quick mind and roll-up-the-sleeves attitude served her well and in no time, she worked her way up the ladder to Vice President at the global advertising agency J. Walter Thompson in New York City. She loved working with clients and managed many of their largest high-profile accounts.
When J. Walter Thompson acquired Hill & Knowlton, Jen assumed international responsibility for the PepsiCo account and later managed the agency’s partnership with Sumitomo Corporation in Tokyo, a leading global trading and business investment company. That was in 1989 when few women held positions of that stature, especially in Japan. But Jen set to work and spent six months successfully developing the partnership.
“I had worked from headquarters for a long time,” Jen explains. “But suddenly I was in the field and it was an eye-opening experience. It helped me appreciate the complexities of managing international business, especially the cultural implications. There were times when I knew the direction corporate wanted us to go just wasn’t going to work there.”
With her beloved husband Alan and two wonderful daughters still living in the States, Jen knew Tokyo would be a short-term role for her. So, after training her successor, she headed home. She was promoted to senior vice president, in charge of a business-to-business practice.
Jen and Alan lived on Long Island, NY, but also enjoyed a vacation house in Lenox, MA, where she volunteered at the Chamber of Commerce and Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She’s still a member of Berkshire OLLI, the Osher Life Long Learning Institute, and takes 3-5 online classes each semester.
Jen has served on the Board of Missions at Naples United Church of Christ and currently chairs the Justice Committee. They offer monthly educational programs to the public and this year’s theme of Affordable Housing closely aligns with GNL’s focus on Workforce Housing. She joined the planning group for the GNL sponsored Forum, and when the ground-swell of interest drove the need for a larger venue, Jen arranged for the Justice Committee to sponsor the event at the Church.
Jen glows when she talks about it. “The experience was signature GNL: teamwork, mutual respect, quick collaboration. We all have a passion for the issue and each of us brought something to the table. Affordable housing for the workforce as well as for others is so critically important to our community. I’m grateful to be part of the effort to raise awareness and seek solutions.”
~Elizabeth Strong, Class XXV