Jen Chavez wears gear emblazoned with an RMEF logo when she strolls out in public. And she knows where the banquet dollars go—to on the ground conservation. “She’s always willing to talk about it,” says her good friend and fellow chapter Chair Sonya Pewtress. “If you stop her and say anything, she’ll give you five different projects that the money has gone to this year, so she’s staying constantly educated as well.”
A lifelong hunter, Jen was drawn in by RMEF’s mission of habitat protection and hunting heritage. She began volunteering as finance chair for the Ogden, Utah, Chapter, then rose to chapter chair. She soon involved her family, including her son Carson, who’s been volunteering since he was 5 and now teaches new volunteers the ropes. She talked with other volunteers; some gave her great tips. “I wanted to immerse myself as much as possible and try to learn as much as I could,” Jen says.
Ogden had never hit 60% net to gross until Jen took over. This year in 2021, with Jen as chair, their banquet rocketed to 64% net to gross. Jen also recruited two new chapter chairs to take over neighboring chapters, including Sonya Pewtress, who chairs the Box Elder Chapter, which also crested 60% net to gross this year. The two women went to high school together and rekindled their friendship at an RMEF banquet. Soon Sonya was helping Jen out, shouldering some of the volunteer tasks.
But despite Jen’s clear leadership talent, it wasn’t always a smooth ascent to the top ranks of RMEF volunteering for her.
Jen enrolled in volunteering when she was told RMEF needed more female volunteers. But she says she quickly found out that the Utah state leadership team was a tight-knit group, difficult to break into, especially as a woman. “When I asked to help out at other banquets and stuff like that, I was always told ‘no, they were fine,’” says Chavez. She watched men who volunteered with RMEF less than a year ascend to the state leadership team ahead of her. “You had to be part of that good old boys club in order to be taken seriously,” she said. “It’s pretty frustrating, but you know, having grown up being a hunter my whole life, I encountered that time and time again. People would say, ‘you’re a girl and you hunt? Are you sick?’”
She says she also noticed an air of competition among chapters in the state, rather than one of collaboration. Luckily, Jen is a fighter and doesn’t give up easily. “She has a personality to overcome those challenges; she’s driven; she’s passionate about the conservation efforts and the RMEF,” says Pewtress.
Jen reached out to her regional director for help. Ron Camp listened to what Jen had to say. He reorganized the state leadership team and worked to foster a feeling of collaboration rather than competition. “Ron Camp came in with a ‘I’m going to treat everyone as equally as possible,’” says Pewtress. “I could just see the atmosphere change when Ron came in.”
Jen says she now gets phone calls all the time from people asking if she will come to help them with their banquets. And she shows up ready to work. “She is very much a success story,” says Ron Camp.