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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

Empowering Change: An Interview with Jolene Warnke

Winrock International takes pride in the diversity and dedication of our volunteers, who are pivotal to our mission of empowering communities and fostering sustainable growth. Among these exceptional individuals is Jolene Warnke, whose journey with us since 2017 exemplifies the profound influence of volunteerism.

How long have you been volunteering with us? 

Three in-person assignments and one virtual assignment since 2017.

What motivated you to start volunteering for our cause? 

My area of expertise was needed, and several colleagues had completed Winrock F2F assignments. The positive experience drew me in. 

Can you share a memorable experience you have had as a volunteer? 

There are so many! However, in my last assignment, two significant events occurred. One was during a workshop where faculty and staff shared their curriculum designs. The Deputy Provost gave an emotional and motivating talk about how they had this fantastic opportunity to learn how to build a curriculum, design a program, and come together as a team. I felt his passion for the opportunity he had to work with the staff on this immense project. The other was a visit from a professor/department chair. I had met him in previous assignments, and I even went to dinner at his house with his family. He is such a gracious and kind person. He was traveling out of town and specifically stopped to see me before he left town to catch up with me. I have developed a wonderful circle of friends and professional colleagues through this. I am important to them and have positively influenced their lives as much as they have mine. 

How do you think volunteering has impacted your personal and professional life? 

I have been fortunate to work with the same group in my three assignments. I have developed friendships, and the influence has gone both ways. Visiting Nigeria specifically has shown me the struggles many face in education, resources, poverty, and government regulation. My experiences have influenced my teachings about regulatory purpose, personal safety, and working with limited resources. I also look through a different lens now in my own life. Understanding more about priorities, what a “challenging” life could be, and how to resolve conflict with patience and kindness.  

In what ways do you believe your volunteering work has contributed to empowering women in our community and aboard? 

As a woman in the United States, I have never felt disparaged by my gender, but I know that has come from the brutal fights women before me have won. My experiences add to the larger story of women who serve and contribute great things beyond their communities. I continue to share my stories and support women who aspire to be larger than themselves. Volunteering in Nigeria, I did not feel disparaged in any way, and for that, I am thankful. I felt welcomed and respected. That has developed over time because of Winrock’s work and the volunteers they have supported. I was also mindful that there are many challenges with women’s roles and changing times, and I learned from the people I associated with. They were very open to conversation and understanding in both directions. In the assignments with Samaru College, women were very well supported by upper leadership and had many opportunities. Samaru College has worked very hard to set a higher standard for engagement with women, and Winrock’s partnership has helped with this process. The women faculty and staff seem engaged and offer much to the conversations and projects. 

Who is a woman in history you admire and why? 

My mother will always come to mind first. She is a survivor and problem solver and has always amazed me. Even in adversity, she is a kind and nurturing person. 

What message would you like to share with other women thinking about volunteering? 

Why not? There will always be a reason not to, so just do it. It pays back in incalculable ways and adds a dimension to your life that you did not know was missing.  

If you could solve one issue affecting women today, what would it be and why? 

Self-esteem and confidence. Many women still feel they are not in control of their lives, that they are hostages or victims, and that they cannot do it all. However, you can do it on your terms, and it does not have to “look” the same as everyone else does everyone else does. Focus less on how you are perceived by others and more on how you can influence what they see. 

Please share a quote that inspires you. 

You are responsible for doing your best with what you have for as long as possible.- Charles Swindoll

Jolene Warnke’s story with Winrock International underscores the significant impact individual volunteers can have on global communities. Her dedication, empathy, and contributions are a source of inspiration, embodying the values we cherish and promote at Winrock International. Her journey illustrates the transformative power of volunteerism, both for the individual and the wider community.