Madhuri Kenlon’s childhood set the stage for the volunteer opportunities she chooses now, giving back to programs that address issues of poverty in Northeast Florida.
Kenlon grew up in an atmosphere of sharing in the town of Cuova, Trinidad, a community she describes as “full of people and lots of back alleys.”
“I grew up in a single parent, multi-generational family where everyone was always helping everyone,” Kenlon said. “We were happy, lots of family, lots of friends.”
It was when she was about 7 and visited her great-aunt that she remembers coming face-to-face with poverty.
“She was eating flour pap,” Kenlon said. “She was eating it because that’s all they could afford. It had never struck me before – that people could go hungry — until I saw true poverty.”
Kenlon said after that experience, her family visited weekly to bring groceries and find other ways to help her great-aunt.
Two years later, it was her own family depending on the generosity of others, when Kenlon was stricken with juvenile arthritis.
“I wanted to be the coolest girl cricketer until then,” Kenlon said.
Her illness changed Kenlon’s focus in several ways. It brought about her first visit to the United States to meet her father and get treatment. It also gave her a determination to be as independent as possible, while grateful for the help her mother and family members gave her.
“I’ll never be that dependent again,” Kenlon said. “What 9-year-old wants to have an illness like that when no one has what you have?”
Kenlon returned to the United States to go to college at the University of Florida. After graduating, she moved to Jacksonville to be near her father and sisters. An account manager for Enterprise helping chief financial officers from around Jacksonville, Kenlon has learned their perspective on different issues.
“That’s why I’ve become so interested in issues affecting the city,” Kenlon said. “I see it playing out every day.”
Whether it’s low wages or affordable child care, Kenlon said making sure there is a support system for people who fall on hard times was crucial. She said the activities she participates in with Women United, like a recent children’s Christmas party for the Children’s Home Society, might seem like a drop in the bucket, but it leads to something larger.
“Giving back has always been a value in my family, we take from society and have a responsibility to give back,” Kenlon said. “It’s part of my culture. Helping one person is good, but it just treats the symptoms not the problem. Look for ways to build infrastructure to help, like working with an organization like United Way that has the resources.”
For more information on United Way of Northeast Florida’s Women United affinity group, visit unitedwaynefl.org/womenunited.