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Jennifer Penn works part time at the front desk at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville while going to school. She came from Denver to earn her associate degree in social work and will graduate in May. Photo Skip Lee

Jennifer Penn works part time at the front desk at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville while going to school. She came from Denver to earn her associate degree in social work and will graduate in May. Photo Skip Lee

Jennifer Penn endured hardships, now learning to help others overcome theirs

By Carrie Click

LEADVILLE – Jennifer Penn is a Denver native, but a couple of years ago she wanted to be anywhere but her hometown.

“I needed to reinvent myself,” said the 42-year-old, who was ending an unsuccessful 17-year marriage and living in a transitional home with 16 women.

After supporting herself for years tending bar, she secured a job at a Subway sandwich shop in Denver. Still, she longed to get out of the city, so on a hunch, she called the Subway in Leadville to ask if there were any jobs available there, away from a past she was ready to leave behind.

To Penn’s delight, Dixie Mullaly, the owner, said yes, and also told her there was a college in Leadville.

“And she told me there were dorms at the college – a community college with dorms!” Penn said. “I could live cheaply and get on my feet.”

Studying for degree in social work

This was the beginning of a new life for Penn, particularly when she discovered that Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville campus offered an Associate of Arts degree in social work. After doing some research, she realized she could take her challenging life experiences, educate herself and use that knowledge to help others.

“It’s my goal and intention to help other women overcome the challenges I have met,” she said.

This May, Penn will graduate with her degree in social work. She credits her “amazing teachers” and Christine Londos, the program coordinator for the Leadville campus’s TRIO Success Center, with supporting her in her academic goals.

“Christine has been an important part of my success in school and I work closely with her all the time,” said Penn.

After graduation, Penn is transferring to Metropolitan State University in Denver for her bachelor’s degree in social work. And while there, she also plans to earn another degree, a Bachelor of Science concentrating on addiction and human trafficking prevention.

Contributing to Leadville community

While in Leadville, Penn has been able to find work that tied into her studies. She was hired part time through a year-long grant with the Wraparound program at Lake County Department of Health and Human Services. Wraparound provides children and families with support to improve their well-being and self-sufficiency. The work ideally fit with Penn’s studies, while filling a needed role locally.

“They’re homeless kiddos,” she said, of some of the children with whom she worked. “They can’t stay focused at school.”

Now near the end of her time at the Leadville campus, Penn continues to focus on helping young people who are facing physical abuse, human trafficking, and drug and alcohol addiction.

“I’ll be sad to leave CMC,” she said, though she notes she has a lot of work ahead of her. “It’s back to the city. I want to reach out to church groups working with young women forced into prostitution. Within five years, many of them die of drug addiction, they overdose or they’re murdered. I want to help them not give up.”