Jenni Luke Steps Up To Lead

As Executive Director of the national women's network Step Up, Jenni Luke has spent just over a year bridging communities.  Simply put, she'll help you connect with the professional women you need for networking and career advancement.  Then she'll connect underserved teen girls who need mentors to encourage them to graduate from high school and go to college, with you.

How do you describe your work? "My work is really about leading this organization of incredible women, and the girls we serve, and keeping them in mind with everything we do.  To let women have a positive place to come and meet, that is about collaboration rather than competition. I have my hands in everything from the finances, to being a spokesperson for the organization, to our curriculum with the girls, so it’s a really exciting job for me."

What three adjectives best describe you? "My sister described me as professional, fashionable and articulate.  My staff tells me that I’m decisive and could also be described as an optimistic realist."

Cats, dogs, birds … describe your pets? "I don't have any pets but I love dogs.  My sister’s dog Jack is one of my nephews; he’s my first nephew. He’s a 15-pound mini Dachshund with lots of  personality and I love him."

Favorite season? "It’s really a tie between Spring - because that feels about anticipation and I honestly feel like my year begins in April, and then the Fall.  I love the focused energy of the Fall, so it's kind of a tie."

Name a city you’d love to visit.  Why? "I have always wanted to visit Scandinavia.  The whole region because the physical beauty is incredible but I’m also intrigued by their sense of society.  I would want to observe the culture because I think that there are some lessons to be learned in terms of how they take care of each other."

What’s the best thing about being single? "I have enjoyed being single so that I could take the time to really get to know myself.  I think it’s the responsible thing to do if you’re going to involve a significant other, like a child or a spouse, in your life. You owe it to yourself, and to them, to figure out what motivates you and I love being single for giving myself that opportunity."

Describe your ideal “Girl’s Night Out.” "Girl's Night Out would definitely involve cocktails, dancing and good conversation. I’ve been trying to rally the girls around the dancing but it’s just not happening."

What’s the nicest thing a friend (or friends) have done for you? "It's difficult to pinpoint one thing.  My best friend Elena has been my best friend for 20 years. We met the first day of college in the laundry room because we had the same t-shirt (laughs).  We became best friends and the fact that we’ve seen each other through so much - it’s really the longest term relationship I’ve ever had.  Just the value of that in itself is the nicest thing anyone’s ever done."

What do you do for “Jenni” time? "It depends. I’m kind of schizophrenic with it. Sometimes I like to be active, to go for a hike or to the beach.  Other times, I’m glued to the sofa watching football and flipping through a magazine, having a glass of wine.  It depends on the mood."

What’s the best advice you ever received? "I’m fortunate in my position to come across so many incredible women who are leaders in their field or incredible entrepreneurs and the one piece of advice that jumps out is to be yourself.  Sometimes you fake it 'till you make it or you wear someone else’s identity but you've got to check in with yourself.  Not only what does this position require, but what do I bring to it? Who am I in it?"

What quality do you admire most in a man? "I have to say that I’m very fortunate to have an amazing man in my life and he really understands what it’s like to be a teammate.  Some days he'll need more support from me and some days I'll need more support from him.  But whatever either of us is going through, we can talk about it and that’s huge.  I love that."

What quality do you admire most in a woman? "I really admire strong women who have a sense of self-confidence that they bring throughout every thing they do.  The women and teens I’ve met through Step Up, when their self-confidence is shining, it’s just amazing to see."

Who are your real life heroes? "I’m impressed every day by the teens. The fact that they are committed to graduating from high school, getting themselves through college, even though they may not have support from their families.  They’re really pioneers for themselves, brave, and it’s inspiring to be around."

What is your guilty pleasure? "I don’t know how guilty it is.  I love to watch sports.  I’m a football fan.  I’m easily 6 hours of football a week during the season, so if that’s a guilty pleasure, then that’s it."

What is your biggest fear? "I definitely fear that I’m not going to be able to accomplish everything I want to accomplish.  I have confidence I can do big things, but the opposite is what if I’m not able to leave the mark I want to make on the world, and that freaks me out."

If you could change one thing in your past, what would it be? "This question makes me think of one of our teens, who I had lunch with at the beginning of the year in Chicago and she said, what would you tell your 17-year-old self if you could?  I think it made all of us think about the time we wasted thinking and sweating the small things, like the size of your waist line, not giving yourself a break.  I really was hard on myself when I was younger and I wanted to do everything the right way.  Just being easier on myself is definitely something I would change."

Other than your own talents, what talent would you most like to have? "I would really like to be able to cook a meal that people would actually like to eat.  Because I can cook, but it’s not stuff that I would actually feed to other people if they were guests in my home."

What is your motto? Or what words do you live by? "I’m not really a fan of mottos.  I feel like they can be limiting because you can get stuck in it.  You need to be able to check in with yourself and where you’re feeling, but if I had to say one it would be just do it or just get it done."

Step Up is a contender for October's Pepsi Refresh Project.  To help them win $250,000 for teen girls vote daily, via text (103315 to 73774) or visit facebook or the contest website!

Lead photo by: maya | myers photography