Illinois Women in Leadership is taking a service trip to Kenya

Illinois Women in Leadership has been empowering area women for two decades, and the nonprofit group has about 200 members in the Springfield area. Its IWIL credo promotes professionalism and leadership through purposeful inclusion, education, mentoring, networking and community involvement.

Through its history, IWIL members have mentored many people and made an impact in various ways. Now it is taking its leadership-building actions overseas for the first time with a service trip to Kenya in July. IWIL is currently soliciting donations to cover expenses for materials and resources with a goal of raising $10,000 by July 1.

click to enlarge Illinois Women in Leadership is taking a service trip to Kenya
IWIL member Jen DeJong has traveled to Kenya six times for service projects and is organizing a July trip for 10 women from the organization.

Taking the lead on this trip is IWIL's immediate past president, Jen DeJong, who has been involved in philanthropic activities her entire adult life. "As a former youth director, I organized and led many service trips domestically and internationally for teenagers and have also participated in church service trips through the years organized by others," she said. "I joined IWIL shortly after moving back to Springfield in 2014. At the time, I was a church consultant working from home and traveling for work, and felt like it would be a great way to network in the community.

"IWIL has become a group that I treasure greatly," DeJong continued, "not just the programs and events, but the people. I have become dear friends with many women in Springfield because of my involvement in IWIL."

DeJong said she first traveled to Kenya in 2002 with a church group while living in Nashville. "It was an inaugural-service trip for that church, and I was so drawn to the idea of being immersed in a new culture while doing my part to help them help themselves," she said.

The trip to Kenya in July will be DeJong's seventh in 22 years and the third trip she has organized. She now runs a small travel business that organizes trips to Sicily and took a group of IWIL members to Sicily in 2022 and 2023.

"Because of my involvement in IWIL, some of the women knew about my service trips to Kenya in the past and thought we would have enough interest to offer that as our next IWIL travel experience," DeJong said.

Planning for the trip began over a year ago, and 10 members are slated to travel to Kenya. They will be working with DeJong's friend and missionary, Stu Ross, whom she's known since her initial 2002 trip.

"My husband and I have been supporting Stu financially through The Outreach Foundation since 2002, and four of my previous six trips were to do projects with Stu," she said. DeJong noted that the IWIL group will be the first time that Stu has worked with an all-female team, and it's also unusual to have a group that's not affiliated with a church.

"Our goals are to focus on projects that impact women and children. Stu has been associated with some of these projects for over 20 years," DeJong said.

"Our projects," DeJong continued, "include time with children at an elementary school that was created by Stu and his wife, Annie, to provide education to those in the area that would not likely be able to attend school otherwise. Public school can be prohibitive because the students are required to pay for and wear uniforms and some families can't afford them. We will fund and help complete the building of a dorm block at a girls' boarding school. We will visit and provide food to a Girls Rescue Center that serves girls who have run away from their Maasai villages because of female genital mutilation and/or child marriage. We will provide a motivational talk at a boarding school for girls. Finally, we'll spend some time with residents at a nursing home, provide hygiene kits and do some landscaping to beautify their property."

Jamie Stout, a longtime IWIL member and former IWIL president, is looking forward to the trip and participating in various tasks. "This trip interested me to make an impact on the greater world," she said. "I have a strong desire to make the world a better place. I try to do that in my local community and jumped at the opportunity to do so (on a larger scale)."

Fellow IWIL member Molly Berendt, who also has a history of nonprofit work, said, "A couple of my best friends have lived in Kenya before and 'left their hearts there,' as they've said, so I've always been interested in going."

IWIL hosted a fundraiser in May that featured an authentic African dinner created by Kimsimone Manning, chef and owner of Seoul 4 Soul. Donations are still welcomed. To learn more, visit

Janet Seitz is a local communications professional, writer and artist. To share your story, contact her at [email protected].