Alumni Highlight – Jenna Lee

Jenna with Professor Hilary Hoynes, the keynote speaker for UC Berkeley's Summit on Hunger
Jenna with Professor Hilary Hoynes, the keynote speaker for UC Berkeley’s Summit on Hunger

Jenna Lee, a 2008 Fellow, has been very active in working to give back to the community. A few years ago, she started a non-profit at UC Berkley, which has garnered support and partnership from the school and helped out hundreds of families.

Tell us about yourself.

Hi there! My name is Virginia (Jenna) Lee, I was a 2008 ILF Fellow and had the great fortune of interning at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). What I am simultaneously passionate about and involved with, is working with others to develop sustainable solutions to issues surrounding poverty. During my first year Master of Social Welfare (MSW) internship at UC Berkeley, I founded a program for minority student parents by uniting their need for basic resources (such as food and children’s supplies) with the needs of minority business and corporations. Today, this program has become two separate non-profits, the Berkeley Food Pantry and the Student Parent Association for Recruitment and Retention (SPARR) Food Donations. Together, these two non-profits support all Berkeley students impacted by poverty.

Why did you decide to apply for the ILF fellowship or participate in the ILF?

My best friend at UC Berkeley and fellow ILF alumni Tonia Bui recommended that I apply due to our shared desire to give back to the Asian American community and my interest in the impact that English and Mandarin Chinese can have upon socioeconomic mobility.

How has the ILF influenced your career path and professional goals?

To me, ILF’s founder are the best models that I know of individuals who successfully unite the values of leadership and social responsibility. Over half of the hands-on skills that I currently use in non-profit leadership, I learned from Ms. Tong as her Executive Assistant for ILF.

How did ILF help you practice your leadership skills?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was during ILF’s orientation (…) as new interns in government agencies, should put our best foot forward by being willing to do anything, even to start at the bottom and slowly work our way up. The times in my life when I have applied this advice were often the times when I was also given the opportunity to practice leadership skills. For example, during my first-year MSW internship, one of my first tasks was supporting minority student parents during the scholarship application process. As time went on, I saw how closely the challenges student parents faced mirrored my own. Our shared experiences and need for basic resources (such as food) inspired me to take action by creating mutually beneficial partnerships that provide basic resources for students in poverty.

But the reality is sometimes different. What challenges have you faced our of /after the ILF when you practice leadership and others you learned from ILF and how did you overcome them?

Reality can be very different! Challenges I have faced include navigating the ambiguities of others and self due to differences in culture or communication and learning how to moderate my well-meant ideas to include the needs of stakeholders. Overcoming challenges can be a lifelong process, but I feel lucky to work with a terrific team of fellow leaders.

Where do you see yourself in the next 2 to 5 years?

I am the happiest when I am working to translate the needs of minority groups into a concrete program that offers options to multiple types of stakeholders. I envision working in a government or non-profit agency that addresses this specific issue.

What advice would you give to incoming Fellows in general or those who specifically want to work in the field where you are now?

In my experience, facing personal insecurities has been a great challenge. Finding peace with ones self can go a long way in identifying gifts and challenges.

Anything else you would like to share with ILF advisors, alumni, and fellows or promote?

Please apply to ILF! And feel free to contact me at I would be happy to help support.


Check out the UC Berkley Food Pantry and SPARR websites to see more of their work and maybe lend a hand if you’re in the area, or donate!