For Jenny Konkin, the major turning point in her life came in 2009.
When her father, Ron, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Konkin, who had a successful corporate career with a major restaurant chain, was so jolted by the news that she decided to re-evaluate everything in her life.
“When my dad was diagnosed, it really changed my perspective of wanting to have a greater purpose,” Konkin said. “I really enjoyed what I was doing before, but it didn’t have a greater purpose…. My dad made an amazing amount of impact on people, so I wanted to be like him.”
Through the Downtown Eastside single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) that Konkin’s family managed, she and her brother, Josh, began to focus on non-profit charity work in some of the province’s most in-need communities. That’s also when Konkin saw something that was not being served by the local SROs – a sense of support and community for seniors in need. That was when she decided to launch the Whole Way House Society, she said.
“We thought we were just dealing with poverty, but we realized that wasn’t the underlying issue,” said Konkin, who is president of the charity organization. “We are dealing with people facing such isolation and loneliness, and that has led to so much detrimental behaviour.… It’s easy to watch the pattern of people who were not given an opportunity to have a supportive family, and in our office and in our staffing, we stress that family comes first.”
The Whole Way House helps give seniors a sense of purpose and belonging, Konkin said, through programs that encourage community members to get involved and to help one another.
Konkin said her corporate training has helped her in the non-profit field.
“We took a lot of the corporate concepts and applied them into the operations here.... Being an entrepreneur, I asked myself, ‘Why are we not using some of the resources that are already here?’
“I treat the charity like a business, but the return on investment we consider is, are we helping someone’s life, helping them move forward? And it’s more important, because it’s not my money, but the generosity of our donors. We have to be accountable for all of that.”
Where you live now: Vancouver
Highest level of education: Simon Fraser University, bachelor of arts in psychology
Currently reading: Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler and David Maxfield
Currently listening to: Anything by Hillsong Worship
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: Singer (especially of the national anthem at a hockey game)
Profession you would most like to try: Restaurant owner
Toughest business or professional decision: Leaving the corporate world when I was two months away from a promotion
Advice you would give the younger you: The world will go on, whether you pull the all-nighter or not. Trust that everything will be OK
What’s left to do: Finding a way to replicate our programming so that more seniors and vulnerable people in the community can have access to safe and secure housing – as well as a support network around them