How long have you been involved with League? I joined in the fall of 2015, at the urging of my manager at the time.
What have you been involved with since joining the Junior League of Topeka? I’ve spent the strong majority of my League time on the Community Impact Council. Two of those years, I was Project Co-Chair when we had Diaper Depot. I’m now Project Coordinator and help manage our communications such as the weekly eblast!
Where did you grow up? I grew up outside the itty-bitty town of Sylvan Grove, KS. I moved to Topeka to attend Washburn University, and haven’t left!
What do you do for a living? I’ve been in Marketing at Kansas Lottery for nearly five years. Before that, I was at Prairie Band Casino & Resort for 12 years.
What do you love most about League? I love being able to give back to the community in a tangible way. It’s also been great meeting the lovely ladies of Junior League of Topeka, as well as people in the community.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to join Junior League of Topeka? Do it! Whatever it is you may be looking for, it can surely be found in the Junior League of Topeka. Just want some social time with the gals? It’s here. Looking to network professionally? Lots of contacts. Seeking fulfillment by helping others? Absolutely available.
What are you involved in outside of League? I’m currently on the board for USD 501 Parents As Teachers, and am looking forward to spending more time working with a couple groups at church. Our daughters are surely going to be getting more active, so I’m sure the chauffer lifestyle will be reinvigorated soon.
Tell me something else about you? I grew up on a farm, and love getting back as often as I can, which is never enough. Since our yard is not conducive to hoof stock, we did “allow” Santa to bring the girls each a rabbit last Christmas, in hopes to instill some life lessons. Those two rabbits have multiplied, though. If anyone would like one, just let me know!
Junior League of Topeka Member, SGT. Jeri Billings-Carpenter, serves in the Kansas Army National Guard.
What inspired you to join the military?
I joined when I was 21 years old, and at that time, I remember feeling trapped in this cycle of go to school, go to work, sleep, and repeat. I was restless and desperately searching for purpose. I wanted to do something for me, something I could be proud of. As crazy as it sounds, ultimately, that calling led me to an Army recruiter’s office.
What has your experience been as a woman in the military?
My experience as a woman within the military has been a ride, that’s for sure. While great strides have been made to make the military more inclusive of women, it is still very much a “man’s world.” For me, that looks like both an internal and external battle. Internally, I’m always striving to be the best Soldier I can be. When people hear my name, I want them to think, “oh yeah, she gets stuff done and can hold her own.” There’s a quote I’ve heard before that kind of sums up my internal struggles perfectly. “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say ‘she doesn’t have what it takes;’ they will say, ‘women don’t have what it takes.’” Externally, it can be difficult putting on the uniform every morning and concealing my femininity. We are restricted on our overall appearance. I miss being able to wear my hair down on a daily basis and paint my fingernails wild colors. But don’t get it twisted, I’ve never felt like more of a confident, fierce woman than I have since joining the military.
What would you tell girls or young women today looking for ways to join?
I will always encourage girls or young women looking to serve to 110% go for it! I am all about empowering all women, but the ones who go after unconventional roles (like the military) will always be near and dear to me. You are capable of way more than you would ever believe, and these types of roles bring that out. It won’t always be good, there are some really hard days and difficult seasons, but I can promise you without the military I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, and little Jeri would be so amazed, and happy, about the Jeri I am now.
Thank you, Jeri, and all those that have served, for your service!
Today is the 5th and final day of the “Little Black Dress Initiative.” Today’s collage features advocates wearing their little black dresses to help illustrate how poverty can effect women’s access to opportunities and resources. The good news here is that with your help and with the support of our amazing community partners like the YWCA of NE Kansas we CAN make a difference!
The Gold Rose Award honors a Sustaining Member of the Junior League of Topeka for their ongoing positive impact on our community. It is the most prestigious award given by The Junior League of Topeka, and honors someone who has used their league training to contribute to the betterment of the Topeka Community. This years recipient is Jenay Weekly.
With a passion for education, Jenay has touched literally hundreds of students through the school and community organizations in which she has been involved for many years. She is tireless in her pursuit of educational opportunities for Topeka students as well as in the performing arts, enhancing the quality of life in our community. Jenay is an excellent communicator, sets high standards for herself and others and most importantly, provides tools for students to achieve their goals. She attributes JLT with providing her training and initial experiences in volunteerism.
Her important focus on children saw her direct plays and musicals at Robinson Middle School for 36 years. She has received recognition for her efforts by being named a Woman of Excellence in the Educator category by the YWCA, Outstanding Gifted Ed teacher in the State of Kansas, and awarded the Distinguished Staff Award for Secondary Education by USD#501.
A most significant outcome of her passion and the training JLT provided is the Topeka Model United Nations. USD #501 cut the program, and Jenay led the efforts to find funding for continued growth to over 600 student delegates. She served as the director for 20 years, and there is now a student award in her name.
Some of the organizations Jenay has been involved with include:
President, Performing Arts for Children
Director and Teacher, Melody Brown Fun Factory Summer Camp
Board of Trustees, Topeka Civic Theatre
Board of Directors, Topeka Festival Singers
President, PEO Chapter FI
President, Topeka PEO Cooperative Board
Jenay joined JLT in 1979 and while an active member chaired and helped create the Children’s Discovery Room at the Kansas Museum of History. She was a teacher for a JLT school program working on self esteem and alcohol and drug education, served as the JayTalk editor and worked on Next to New.
As a sustaining member, Jenay has served on the Sustainer Relations Committee and is a contributing writer for the Capital Impact magazine.
On March 6th of 2020, I remember zipping out of my classroom as soon as the last student left the room. Spring break was officially here, and I was ready for some much-needed time off to relax and recharge for the final quarter of the school year. However, the end of this Spring Break brought emotions that I had never felt before and never want to experience again. When I got the news that I would not be returning to finish out the school year with my class, I was heartbroken. We had many fun events and activities that we would not be able to complete. There was going to be no closure to the school year, and I was not going to be given the opportunity to say “goodbye” to them before they moved onto the next grade. On top of all this, I worried about them academically, socially, and just their overall well-being for weeks.
For the remaining six weeks, I posted videos of reading, math, science, and social studies lessons. I drove all over the city to make porch deliveries to brighten their day. I met with my class two times per week via Zoom so we could just talk and see each other. The expectation was for the students to complete an hour of work each week. I had some kids that met this expectation every day, some that completed a little work, and some I never heard from or saw again. I also partnered with the State Department of Education, PBS, and other educators across the state to create a six-episode TV series to help support the families learning at home and provide them with some fun educational opportunities.
During the summer, I worked on our district taskforce to help plan for various learning scenarios for the school year. Our committee focused on the curriculum needs of the district, while others focused on logistical things for building preparedness, Human Resource concerns, and other daily activities. It was really difficult to prepare for the unknown, but the staff members, administration, board representatives, and community members spent hours researching and discussing what would be best for our students and district.
The beginning of a school year usually brings me joy and excitement, but the 2020-2021 school year brought more worry and stress than I had ever experienced before. I spent all of August getting training on the various programs we would be using for instruction and learning expectations that would be in place for COVID. We began the school year in September and in the hybrid model. This meant that half of my students would be in school on Monday and Tuesday, while the other half would be learning from home. Everyone would be learning at home on Wednesday and then the groups would switch for school and home learning. At the beginning of the year, I was really excited about the hybrid model because I was going to be able to physically have my students at school and provide them with real instruction from me and at their appropriate needs. However, a few weeks into the year and I was no longer feeling the same. I felt like I was doing the job of two teachers. The amount of time it would take to prepare for home learning and school learning consumed my life. I had parents email me with questions or technology concerns, but I couldn’t respond because I was busy teaching at school. I would have to grade assignments, make videos, and post lessons in my evenings and weekends. It was really difficult to get routines established because they were at school for two days and then I didn’t see them for six more days. I relied heavily on them getting the work done at home, but if they did not then they had a hard time following along and keeping up with what we were doing at school.
Finally, by the end of October we were back to full-time in person learning and things were becoming so much better for the students, parents, and myself. That was very short lived though and by Thanksgiving the district had decided to move to full remote learning until we returned from Christmas break. Again, I was devastated to no longer be physically with my students at one of my favorite times of year.
There were some positives that came with the change to remote learning. We were required to do live teaching sessions during this time, and I was able to meet with groups based on ability levels and continue to help them progress at their needs. However, during this time I had more students fall behind academically, and I faced more challenges with behavior when we returned to hybrid in January. By the middle of February, we were able to return to full-time in person learning and get ourselves back to routine and consistent expectations.
To say the last year has been a challenge would be an understatement. I’ve questioned myself as an educator many times, cried more times than I remember, worried endlessly about my students, and felt frustrated to not be in control of my career. Thankfully, I was blessed with an amazing group of 2nd graders, supportive parents, and my friends, family, and co-workers have been my rock through these challenging times. The kids have amazed me with their ability to adapt to the changes and continue to learn in any environment. I’ve decided to take on a new role next school year as an “Intervention Specialist” to help support more students who have had learning loss and a harder time catching up on their skills because of the Pandemic and the impact that it had on education.
It is important to understand that everyone’s situation and experiences are different. My hope from this experience is that we will understand the importance of education and collaboration of all stakeholders in these decision-making processes and to do what is truly best for the students academically, emotionally, and their overall well-being. This would make the tears and sacrifices well worth it in the end.