A new engagement office will open doors in Knox County to Kenyon students.
Kenyon launched its new community engagement office with Jennifer C. Odenweller as its director.
Odenweller, the former executive director of the United Way of Knox County, will start her job in a campus office but will move to the Buckeye Candy building in downtown Mount Vernon after renovation work there is complete in about a year.
The Community Engagement Office is an initiative of President Sean Decatur, who envisions the center as a Knox County resource, linking Kenyon students to community service opportunities, regional internships and coursework in concert with business, industry and nonprofit social service organizations.
“Jen Odenweller is the ideal leader for the important new mission of strengthening the bridge between Kenyon and our larger community,” Decatur said. “Our students will take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow with the help of our neighbors, which is a key part of their preparation for productive citizenship. And this is a two-way street because we believe Kenyon can do more to benefit the people of Knox County.”
Odenweller joined the local United Way as its first full-time director in 2000. She doubled the annual community investment campaign during that time to $1,075,000 in 2014. She convened Knox County leaders in 2013 to create a shared vision for community-wide health, education, economic growth and preservation.
“I believe that partnerships change outcomes,” Odenweller said. “Partnerships focused on developing future leaders and responsible community members are no different than partnerships formed for fundraising to elevate the quality of life in the community. This opportunity to benefit all of us — to make a difference in the lives of students who come to Knox County for a liberal arts education at Kenyon and to make a difference in the lives of those who are already members of our community — is very exciting.”
Odenweller will be the point of contact and an important “face of Kenyon” in the community, Provost Joseph Klesner said. The community engagement office is part of the Academic Division. “Jen will be the liaison between the faculty, staff and students and people throughout the county.”
Odenweller has demonstrated her leadership and strategic-planning skills at United Way, where she has shown “a real capacity to build an organization’s strength and profile and greatly increase the impact in the community,” Klesner said. “She is a good listener. She gets things done.”
Sam Barone ’72, executive director of the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County, said Odenweller has the experience, skills and temperament to build effective partnerships between Kenyon and the community at large. “President Decatur clearly understands that Kenyon’s growing presence in the Knox County community will enhance mutual understanding and respect, while expanding learning opportunities for Kenyon students, faculty and community members alike,” Barone said. “This is truly a transformative event in a nearly two century-old saga of town-gown relations.”
Before joining United Way of Knox County, Odenweller worked for United Way of Central Ohio in Columbus as a campaign chair assistant and special events coordinator from 1997 to 2000. She is a graduate of the Ohio State University. Odenweller was reared in Mount Vernon. She and her husband, Marc, who is a certified public accountant, appreciate the rich community life found in Knox County.
And she expects to make a difference. “In anything I do, I hit the ground running,” she said.