Over the last few months, I have had the chance to sit with or telephone many of the breakout presenters for this year’s Summit, in order to learn more about their stories and share them with you. Having attended Summit for the last two years,
I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of the stories that are still being designed and how much there still is to glean!
Kerri Dunkelberger, Executive Director of Foster and Adoption for Olive Crest was perhaps the most local and familiar name to me, as we had crossed paths many times here in Southern California. If there was a local orphan care event I was attending, I could be pretty confident of seeing Kerri.
But on Monday night I was taken by surprise when she and I met in a new circle. It’s my first time to participate in a book club, and somehow I didn’t catch the familiar name on the email list. But as we ventured into a real conversation – you know, more than just the friendly “good to see you” and familiar smiles – I realized this is a woman I want to get to know better. And that you need to get to know better! And so as you ramp up to ACTUALLY meet all these fabulous speakers TOMORROW, let me take one more chance to “introduce” you to one whose story just may speak to your own …
Of course, one of my first questions for Kerri was why she is part of this book club. Her answer: “I love to sit with people who like to think about things that are bigger than their daily lives.”
Especially because crisis is her daily life. As much as she loves her job, she knows that every day, it will demand her attention in an unplanned conversation, all involving real people in a real crisis, where “please hold” isn’t an option. So moments that allow her to lift her head and pay attention to the bigger themes – like a book club or, ahem, Summit VIII – are refreshing and vital.
Kerri grew up in a Pastor’s family, so this
appreciation for “things that matter” was planted early. One of those things that mattered in the Dunkelberger home included football. Kerri smiles as she remembers it was always on at their house growing up, due in part to her Dad’s playing years.
And so, as a young woman, she chose a career path that mattered and set her sights on running Public Relations for … the Rams. She loved being on the field and in the energy generated there. In fact, before even choosing a college degree, Kerri got – and followed – the advice of the then PR Manager for the Rams and pursued degrees in Business and Mass Communications.
Her first job out of school put her Mass Communications degree to work as she represented the Odyssey series for Christian radio nationwide. While she liked how she spent her 40-50 hour work-week, she realized she found LIFE and energy in the 2 hours a week she spent discipling high school girls at her Church.
The girls were all from good homes and good families, yet with some very real challenges, including eating disorders and panic attacks. She knew two things then: She wanted to understand more, with a deeper perspective, and she wanted to work with at-risk kids. So she returned to school for a new degree in Counseling, continuing her career path towards things that matter, though in a new genre.
Her path had some surprises and meanderings like so many. But today, serving as the Executive Director of Foster and Adoption and overseeing Community Involvement for Olive Crest, Kerri says she can see how EVERYTHING is being used by God – she daily uses her Business, Mass Communications and Counseling degrees. Her life as a single mother has given her a courtside seat into the lives of God providing for the fatherless, as she and her daughter have lived an extraordinary life within ordinary means. This has also given her a great compassion for those she serves.
Kerri is stepping into a new season – her daughter Makenna just started college, which means she is now discovering this concept of “free time”, which she recently used to join in a Flash Mob, just to keep the adventure seeker alive inside of her.
Truth be told, she said dancing to Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something in front of strangers is part of a new discipline she’s adopted: Infusing life with experiences that put her just a little off kilter so that she is not aware of her self-competence all the time. She laughs as she remembers just how off-kilter it made her feel, but as a woman twenty-ish years her junior, I was inspired by this new discipline.
Our human nature is to find our competence and camp there, but then again, that’s another part of what I love about Summit, and what draws so many of us there, I think. Being just enough off-kilter to feel awkward, jittery, unsure, and completely aware of our own inadequacies, so that we will rely not on ourselves but on He who made us and has called us to care for the things that are bigger than our daily lives, and that matter most to Him.
Kerri will be teaching the session Understanding Foster Care and Foster-to-Adopt and Compassion Fatigue: How Caring for Traumatized Children Impacts You at Summit VIII – see you there!