Duty Station: Fort Belvoir
Number of Deployments: 4
Number of PCS's: 12
Share your military spouse story:
As we walked into the housing office at our first duty station, I was confident in my career as a chemistry/physics teacher and a mom of a toddler. Little did I understand the fast paced journey I was about to embark on. Since I grew up moving every two years with my father’s career, I thought I understood military life. Yet this lifestyle shocked me and rocked my world. My husband left on his first deployment within 18 months of raising his right hand. That left me with a toddler, a newborn, and a dog, and far from family. I looked around and saw all the friends I had found in the chapel through the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) and the spouses’ club. They rallied around me as the “newbie” who needed help. They mentored me about the military, available resources to help us, and encouraged me to practice self-care. I often thought about giving up and going to live with my mom during the deployment, but I stayed and thrived. Three months after my husband returned we were in Germany. Again I was confident because of everything I had learned. Yet an overseas move left me floundering. I had to figure out how we got paid, housing, medical, and school all while my husband went to the “field”. Once again, PWOC women came around me and helped unpack boxes, watched my kids so I could take a driving test, and taught me about the medical system. My neighbor dragged me to the spouses’ club and I started learning more about the host country. Each time we move, I realize I have more to learn and more to share with women and families around me. The military can be an adventure or it can be a terrifyingly lonely life. I learned from the women around me to view each move as an adventure to embrace, yet I must be prepared and have a plan. If I don’t have a plan, chaos usually moves in. More than two decades of “on the job training” has inspired me to help women around me learn from my many mistakes and be ready for the military adventure.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Throughout my twenty-plus years following my husband to 12 duty stations, I have held a variety of volunteer leadership positions. I currently volunteer as the spouses’ club board secretary after previously serving in several other positions. I work tirelessly to coordinate fundraisers and develop an awareness of community outreach projects. My passion to follow God compels me to serve on the Protestant Women Of the Chapel (PWOC) board and as the volunteer coordinator for all chapel programs. Working on both boards allows me to network with people from a variety of branches and ranks. I enjoy serving in diverse situations and connecting people across the base. I believe in connecting women and families to the multitude of services provided by both military and civilian organizations. I served for many years as the Director of Operations for Planting Roots, a nonprofit organization serving military women, where I currently serve as the Community Team Administrative Coordinator.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
When I arrive at a duty station, I get involved in the local chapel. I work with chaplains to encourage people to volunteer as the volunteer coordinator. I am quick to find my tribe at PWOC. Often, I will meet friends there I have known from past duty stations. I jump in to help with weekly meetings and any outreach projects. I love facilitating Bible studies, mentoring women, and serving on local and regional boards for PWOC. I am an advocate for families and work to connect them with services to help them thrive in military life. My work with Planting Roots has opened doors to working with women all over the world. I spent a year volunteering with Army Community Service (ACS) to develop financial counseling services. I am an Accredited Financial Counselor, which allows me to assist people with budgeting and to save for the future. I enjoy preparing taxes for military members and their families and teaching teens and young adults about finances and avoiding scams.
Describe how you support your community:
Over two decades of this fast-paced, deployment heavy time, war-footing has taken its toll on military families. Working with chaplains and PWOC, I serve families regardless of rank or branch. My volunteer work with Planting Roots gives me the opportunity to serve alongside active duty women, veterans, and spouses from every branch of the military. I enjoy learning the terminology specific to the different branches. As a member of the Fort Belvoir PWOC board, I mentor a Coast Guard reservist in her faith journey. We discuss how to follow God while serving in the military. I truly love people and want to include everyone in all the areas I support military members. If a duty station has a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) center I will work as many hours as I have available. I am thrilled to help anyone with their taxes and am often asked to consult on challenging tax returns. Helping military families manage their finances strengthens the community.
What do you advocate for? Why?
Today’s families enter the service possessing minimal experience with frequent moves and prolonged separations due to military service. I believe in connecting women and families to people and services around them. After years of pandemic isolation, we need to reconnect to activities and support services on military bases. We need to reach the new spouses to share resources and training on how to be successful in the military lifestyle. The military is stronger when its people are not only physically strong but financially secure, emotionally resilient, and spiritually solid. I share this passion at spouses club meetings as well as through fundraising to help support military members. I encourage women and families to join the chapel community to find spiritual support and friendships. I believe that pouring into the lives around me will encourage families to be vulnerable and ask questions about military life and programs which will enable them to become successful in their future.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I am a chemistry/physics teacher by trade, an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) by choice, and a speaker/trainer of women’s ministry by passion. I am comfortable speaking in front of any size audience. I enjoy teaching and sharing stories about military life and have written and self-published two books. I have articles published on the Planting Roots website, Legacy Magazine, and MilitarySpouses.com. My affinity for writing and speaking led me to create and coordinate the Ignite Team which travels across the country training PWOC boards about the history and mission of PWOC. I have spoken at women’s retreats and taught classes about finances, taxes, and leadership. I served in numerous board positions from president to prayer coordinator for PWOC over the last two decades. All these opportunities to hone my voice have prepared me to speak to a broader audience on behalf of military families.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
As an MSOY, I will work to share with the broadest audience the need to build financially ready, resilient, and supported families. There is no way to avoid the stress, chaos, and uncertainty military members and their families experience during moves and deployments. When families arrive at a new duty station, they need finding people and organizations to connect with and to receive assistance. Networking between chapels, spouses’ clubs, and other organizations to develop strategies for helping military families is key. Working together we can discover needs and mitigate gaps in support. Shining a light on these specific needs and gaps in support with local, regional, and national leaders can lead to better connections and open doors. Developing interesting programs for connecting at new duty stations, financial literacy, and resources can help families thrive in the military, not just barely survive it.
Jennifer Wake is a seasoned military spouse and military ministry leader. Her time serving with PWOC has made an impact on leaders of all ages. Dedicated to equipping the next generation, Jenn has volunteered countless hours toward leadership development, mentorship, and relational investment in today's military spouse community. Her work in organizational infrastructure and ministry leadership is an inspiration.
- by Megan B. Brown
Jennifer Wake is a friend, co-worker in volunteerism, and fellow military spouse. I am putting her name forward for the MSOY program because she represents our military community with such grace, integrity, and a strong commitment to the service of others. Her impact within our military spouse community is global through her involvement with Planting Roots: Strength to Thrive in Military Life, as well as her writing (published author) and speaking. She truly operates as "hands and feet" in service of others - providing inspiration, guidance, encouragement as she advocates for the betterment of those she encounters.
- by Jolynn Lee
Two years ago, Jennifer Wake became the secretary of the Belvoir Spouses Club (BSC). Since that time, she has taken on multiple positions and projects to assist the club. She is always willing to jump in wherever she is needed and assist other board members in their roles. She is adored by our members who are always excited to chat with her. Jennifer has been a blessing to BSC and our community. I know I could never adequately express the gratitude the club has for Jennifer and her dedication.
Jennifer is also an active volunteer for the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) serving as small group leader and multiple board positions. Jennifer has traveled to other military bases to assist and train their PWOC leaders, at her own expense.
Jennifer is a wonder friend, volunteer and mentor. A gift to all who have had the pleasure to work and know with her.
- by Michelle Gwin