Raising an RMEF Family
Daughters are fourth generation of elk country volunteers
By Nicky Ouellet, Bugle Intern
At the ages of 5 and 7, Sidney and Piper Kitchen are some of the youngest volunteers at the Shenandoah Valley Chapter’s annual banquet. They help out with auction tickets while their mom, Jenni, mans the cash-out table.
“I think it’s really important to teach them the importance of volunteering and giving back and being involved in the community,” said Jenni.
Jenni is a third-generation RMEF member and volunteer. She started helping out at banquets with her younger sister when she was about 10, later shouldering more responsibilities. She eventually roped in her boyfriend, who she later married, and now has included her own family in the RMEF community.
Though neither Jenni nor her husband hunt, they remain active RMEF members. She values RMEF’s conservation ethic, the cooperative spirit of volunteers, and hangs on to a sense of tradition Jenni enjoyed as a kid. These are qualities with which she hopes to surround her children.
“It’s opened me up to being around people that I wouldn’t normally find myself around in real life, for no other reason than we don’t have anything else in common,” she said of her chapter. “This is a great place to come together in that area of common ground.”
Jenni experienced the depth of the RMEF family 11 years ago when her younger sister, also a dedicated volunteer, passed away unexpectedly in a rafting accident. At 15 years old, Morgan Funk was already a life member and a banquet staple, her work well-noticed and appreciated by fellow members.
RMEF paid tribute to Morgan posthumously at Elk Camp in Portland, Oregon, that year with the first RMEF Youth Conservation Award. Established in Morgan’s honor, the award continues today, recognizing outstanding youths dedicated to the Elk Foundation mission.
Standing with her family to receive recognition on Morgan’s behalf left Jenni with a deep sense of community.
“People spread out all over the place yet coming together as a community like that is really an incredible feeling,” she said.
These days, Jenni and her husband explore new outlets for community building. They cofounded a theater group to perform original pieces in local bars to bring social awareness to community issues. She says volunteering, whether in her hometown or with RMEF, is one way she and her family help create the type of community she wants to live in. Raising her daughters alongside the conservationists and hunters of the Elk Foundation allows them to experience the same lessons she had growing up.
“It gives me a personal sense of pride in the work that I do,” she said. “We want to teach them how that process works.”