At 26, an old hand at community activism

At 26, an old hand at community activism

She’s not pushing radical ideas or a political platform. For Jenna Vendil it’s simple: Everyday people can make a difference on issues that affect their lives.

More than just community involvement, Vendil, 26, believes is the power of education. As Portland’s youngest elected official to join the school board, she represents District 1 – the most socio-economic and racially varied in the city. She believes in equality in education. She’s created community forums where everyone’s voice can be heard and wants to make sure all children get a chance to succeed. She’s even sponsored legislation that would protect student privacy.

“I believe in the power of education to transform people’s lives and create opportunity because I’ve experienced that transformation first hand,” she said.

Raised more than 3,200 miles away in Daly City, Calif., outside of San Francisco, she was 8 when her father left and her mother worked two jobs to provide for Jenna and her sister. Her teachers encouraged her to set high goals and helped to create opportunities for Vendil to succeed when she didn’t believe it was possible. She spent her summer before senior year of high school taking college courses at Brown University. Even through her family’s homelessness her senior year, her teachers were supportive. They stayed hours after the bell rang, providing a space for Jenna to do her homework. Their support kept her from dropping out.

Her passion for community involvement and service comes from knowing she is the exception to how people in similar circumstances end up.

She studied at Bates College in Lewiston, becoming an activist for affordable housing, racial justice, workers rights and affordable higher education. After graduation, Vendil moved to Portland and worked with The League of Young Voters and Opportunity Maine. She volunteers with organizations such as Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, NAACP and the Southern Maine Worker’s Center.

Vendil also is the Maine grassroots organizer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, promoting the organization, developing programs for young women and creating and educating next generation’s reproductive health leaders. She runs an internship program with Planned Parenthood where college students learn about organizing and legislative work.

Vendil credits her hard-working mother as her role model. Within her community, she admires Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, who ran for office at 25, the same age at which Jenna was elected.

“I see Hannah as a role model when I think about how much young women can accomplish in positions of leadership,” she said.

While strong women have shaped Vendil, she also understands the importance of creating next generation’s leaders, as well. Throughout the many causes she supports, Vendil is helping the community, but within many of the groups she works with, she’s also empowering and encouraging the next generation to be involved.

“I’m passionate about making a difference in my community and encouraging others to believe that they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Next, Vendil hopes to become more engaged with other young policymakers, networking to share ideas and implement them within their communities. She also wants to be involved with leadership development for young women.

“What motivates me to do the work I do, is the question I ask myself constantly, ‘What are you doing to make a difference in people’s lives?’”

Jenna Vendil speaks at a Medicare press conference with Maine People’s Alliance activists.Katie Bell is a graphic designer and freelance writer with Current Publishing.

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