Jennifer Shaikun was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. She attended College of Charleston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. In 1999 Jennifer moved to Athens to attend the University of Georgia for graduate school, but ended up changing course. She met her husband, Sean, while bartending here and although they moved to Boston briefly, they settled in Athens to raise their family. Jennifer is the Athens Community Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels Coordinator. She has been involved in Parent Teacher Organizations at both her children’s schools in Clarke County School District. Jennifer lives on the Westside of Athens with Sean and their two children, Anna and Shepherd, and their Boxer, Auggie.
What led you to or inspired your current career?
I had been working at UGA for probably ten plus years doing research administration kind of work. I had worked with a couple of faculty members with big grant projects and then moved into the role of Assistant Director of a research institute on campus. I had some great coworkers, but was increasingly not as fulfilled with the work I was doing. It was around that time that I became aware of a few of the remarkable nonprofits here in town and some of the great work that was being done to help those in our community. I started to feel pulled in that direction. And, the more I learned about the great work that was being done, the more interested I became and felt like it might be time for a shift. I joke that this was my midlife crisis, that is how it kind of presented itself. I was right around 40, and I was like, I think I just want to do something different. So, I left UGA and got a job at Family Connection. They do lots of great work with capacity building and bringing together existing nonprofits and programs doing the work in a consolidated way to address problems in the community, primarily focused on children and families. My experience with Family Connection opened my eyes even more to a) the overwhelming need in our community, and b) the tremendous amount of nonprofits working to address those needs. My job at Family Connection was primarily grant funded and when that began to wind down, I started looking for something new and, of course, I had heard a lot about ACCA [Athens Community Council on Aging] and all of the good work happening there. A position became available, and I jumped at the chance to get my foot in the door. I had been working at ACCA for about a year when the Meals on Wheels Coordinator position became available. It’s been a winding road to get to where I am, but working at ACCA with Meals on Wheels is the best fit for me professionally and personally of any job I’ve had. It’s a great feeling!
What do you love about your job?
There is just so much that I love about it on so many different levels. My coworkers, our clients, and volunteers each play a role in why I love what I get to do everyday. I genuinely enjoy the people I work with. We work hard but laugh a lot. Then you add in what we are able to do for our clients, in serving these older adults in our community, helping them feel seen and cared for and for some, allowing them to continue to safely age in their homes. It’s truly about so much more than the meal we’re providing. Finally, I just adore our volunteers. It is another great side of our community and getting to witness people who choose to give of their time in that way is a beautiful thing. There are just a lot of different facets that make me feel pretty fortunate to have landed where I did.
When you are not working, what is your favorite thing to do in Athens?
Right now, all of the questions are pre-Covid and post-Covid, but I will go ahead and answer pre-Covid because that is the life I long to get back to. We like to take advantage of stuff we can do as a family. So, we like to go and ride the Greenway trails when the weather is nice. We like to go out to The Botanical Gardens. We like to take short little jaunts to Watson Mill Bridge State Park and different places like that which are outside that we can enjoy. I feel fortunate we have so many great places like that in Athens to explore. We also enjoy partaking in the different breweries and places like that here in town, Southern Brewing Company, Creature Comforts, places where we can go meet up with friends. We have a fabulous group of friends with same aged kiddos, so we like to try and find time to get together either at our homes or out and about to hang out, enjoy a beverage and each other’s company.
If you could see any band or show anywhere, who or what would you see and where?
We listen to a pretty wide range of music that the whole family likes. We are big Queen fans, and I think a Queen show would be a pretty awesome performance to see. Now that I am in my forties as far as venue, I would say anywhere where I can sit down and enjoy the show. I’ve been that person making the mad dash to the third floor of The Georgia Theatre to get one of the few bar stools. We love to see shows at The Georgia Theatre, locally it is probably our favorite venue. Although I must say, The Classic Center is pretty sweet because of all of the seating and the acoustics are amazing!
What advice would you give your younger self?
The advice that I think I would give my younger self is the same advice I am currently giving my teenage daughter which is: be kind to yourself. I think it is easy when trying to navigate growing up and various social situations to really beat yourself up. I know I did a lot of that when I was going through those times myself and it just doesn’t serve much of a purpose. So, I always tell my daughter to be kind to herself and even now with myself as an adult, I’d say: be kinder to yourself, a little more forgiving to yourself; let go. After that, I would say find your people, find your tribe. Focus on finding those people who support you and make you feel good about yourself.
What is your favorite movie or the first movie you saw in a movie theatre?
I am a lover of movies, and particularly I love a lot of the classic comedies. Mel Brooks’ comedies come to mind and are some of those films I can watch over and over again. But, if I had to pick something, I think I would go with The Princess Bride. That movie I could watch a million times, I never ever get tired of watching it. You know, it was funny because I remember when the kids were old enough and we sat down and watched it as a family and it made my little parental heart swell with joy when my children laughed at all the right parts and were quoting all the best lines after the movie was over. I just kind of felt like in that moment, okay maybe I have done something right.
If you could put anything on a billboard, what would you put?
As simple as it sounds, and it kind of rolls into my advice to my younger self too: Just Be Kind. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to the planet. Just be kind, I think, for a simple message.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I love to travel. Travel is one of those things that just kind of fuels my soul. I was really fortunate growing up that my parents loved to travel. We rarely flew anywhere, but we did a ton of camping, which is a great way to see how vastly different and beautiful the landscape is here in the US. I feel lucky to have visited so many places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Alaska but have yet to go to Europe. I would love to go to France, Italy, Spain, just about anywhere. We kept kind of putting it off with the kids being young and now that it feels almost out of reach due to COVID and travel restrictions, it makes me want to go all the more!
What is something interesting about you that most people may not know?
Most often, I feel pretty plain to be honest. But, as far as something that people wouldn’t know, I think maybe that dance was kind of my first love. I spent a lot of time at the dance studio when I was younger. I danced competitively up until my early high school years. I didn’t really ever have the body for it, and I don’t think it was ever in the cards for me to be a great dancer, but I just loved it. To this day, when I watch a dance performance it elicits a visceral reaction that sometimes surprises me. I think it is just a very core part of who I am and maybe somehow, one day, I’ll find my way back.
If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
My grandfather was born in 1903, and I think about that a lot as we talk about history and all of the things that have happened in one hundred or so years. He passed away when I was about nine and I never got to know him as an adult. I think I would love to get to sit down and have lunch with him to get to hear from him what he witnessed and experienced in his lifetime and the changes that he saw. I think that would really be an astounding time that he lived through.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home”?
Comfort, Family and Memories. That is one of the things that is really important to me is making memories in our home. We actually moved about a year ago from the house that we had since we were first married. It was very bittersweet to leave that house because it was full of so many memories, bringing our babies home and countless holidays and traditions and things like that. That is very important to me and now that we are in our new home, it is the thing I look forward to the most. I want to focus on making those memories with our family and our friends here in our new home because I feel like what makes a house special are the memories.