One minute with Jennifer Knepper is all you need to feel inspired. Kind, sweetly hilarious, and incredibly generous, compassion seems to ooze out of her every pore, instantly inspiring every single person she meets. And to top it all off, she is humble and whole-heartedly believes that “anyone is only as awesome as their support system and family.” A true inspirer, indeed. Supporting multiple organizations with causes that range from human trafficking to healthcare and co-chairing an organization dedicated to increasing awareness about alternative giving— all while raising two sons with her husband and working as an MICU nurse—Jenn believes that “God put me here in the US for a reason: To use the education, resources, and connections that I have to make a difference for everyone that I am able, whether locally or globally.”
Ask her where she gets her compassionate nature, and she attributes it to a combination of things: her grandfather’s philanthropic bakery, her grandmother’s life lessons on how to treat others, her faith, and her parents’ strong principles. And while she was raised with an abundance of familial inspiration, she also notes that “it really was only after college that I came to understand the gifts that God had given me.” Jenn began working in a medical ICU, befriending a young girl in her unit in need of a heart transplant who ultimately passed far too young. It was with her untimely death—and those of many others—that “I realized very quickly that life is short, and I must be intentional about the way I spend my time.”
-I realized very quickly that life is short, and I must be intentional about the way I spend my time.”
Inspired more than ever in the years following, she began volunteering in 2006 as a Community Partner with Bead for Life, an organization that supports women in Uganda by providing them with vocational training to help end the poverty cycle. Jenn was encouraged by the fact that “there was a tangible way to get involved in ending extreme poverty and most importantly being a hand-up as women lifted themselves out of poverty.” She collaborates with another local Community Partner and a few volunteers to bring beautiful beaded jewelry to local events for the betterment of Ugandan women living in extreme poverty.
A couple years after beginning her journey with Bead for Life, Jenn came across an ad for an alternative gift fair in Harrisburg. Upon reading the ad’s sentiments about grandma not needing another sweater and dad not needing another tie, she thought to herself, “Amen!” She immediately contacted the group, and from that conversation, Gifts That Give Hope Lancaster and its yearly alternative gift fair was born with a group of tirelessly dedicated volunteers.
Gifts That Give Hope Lancaster’s primary mission is to share with the community the importance of giving alternatively. Currently, the average American spends more than $800 on holiday giving each year. Discouraged by this number, Gifts That Give Hope Lancaster has made it their goal to encourage the community to shift their focus from giving tangible gifts to helping those in need by giving the gift of hope.
It is at the alternative gift fair that Gifts That Give Hope supports this mission and works to accomplish this goal. Each year since 2008, the Gifts That Give Hope committee has hosted 30 nonprofit organizations in what Jenn describes as a “live gift catalog.” Each nonprofit at the fair offers three gift items that shoppers can purchase by making a donation in honor of their loved ones rather than simply buying tangible goods for people on their shopping lists.
Of the fair, she says her favorite part is “to see people connecting and saying, ‘Hey, we both work on this aspect of things, so how can we work synergistically to even further optimize our influence?’ That is powerful. Even seeing people enjoying themselves, being with friends and family, and knowing that their actions and purchasing power is making a positive impact—you can’t beat that.” Along with the 30 nonprofits offering their alternative gifts, the fair also offers an array of delicious local eats and a few fair trade items for purchase.
If honoring your loved ones by giving alternatively is something that interests you, consider joining Jennifer Knepper, the entire Gifts That Give Hope committee, and the fair’s 30 wonderful nonprofits to celebrate hope at the Farm and Home Center on November 22, 2014, between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM or visit giftsthatgivehope.org/lancaster for more information or follow them on Facebook and YouTube.