Stories & News
Communications director Jennifer Sykes has helmed Health Forward’s communications for 15 years. She has seen the organization through some significant projects, including strategic planning, logo redesigns, website development, our 10-year and 15-year celebrations, our name change and rebranding in 2018, and media campaigns around important issues like tobacco prevention and Medicaid Expansion.
While Jen’s role often has her hard at work behind the scenes, she focuses on how we communicate with and engage the community around our work. No one has thought more about how we tell our story as a funder and how we in turn can amplify the voices of our partners. I got to sit down with Jen and talk about her tenure at Health Forward.
What are some of your favorite memories of Health Forward?
In the early days we all ate together in the front office on 18th and Prospect. Some days were healthy options and others were pork tenderloins from Benton’s Market. Often Graciela Couchonnal would bring everyone Panera, and we always celebrated Taco Tuesday. As we’ve grown, impromptu lunch gatherings have become complicated, but we still try to always make time for Taco Tuesdays.
After a few years at our original home on 18th and Prospect, the KIPP Endeavor Academy moved into the first floor of our building. It always put a smile on my face to see the students during my walking breaks (or walking meetings) down the hall. However, I do not miss my office being directly upstairs from band practice.
Over the years we’ve spent lots of time together outside of work, like ladies’ night at the K and Royals and Sporting KC tailgates with our families. It’s been fun watching each other’s families grow.
How has Health Forward changed during your tenure?
When I started at Health Forward, my son was two years old. My daughter joined our family the next year. They are now 14 and 17. Just as I have watched my own family grow, the same is true about Health Forward. I joined the organization as we were just a baby — trying to figure out the very basics to operate as a funder. As my kids grew, so did Health Forward, adding amazing new co-workers and growing in our leadership and advocacy work.
Just like raising kids, it is hard to pick out what phase of development has been my “favorite.” With each phase came many opportunities. It’s been a privilege to watch us grow from a startup into a significant regional funder and advocacy voice. And while we have grown and changed over the years, our dedication to the mission remains steadfast.
Today, we are experiencing the joy and struggles that are the teenage years, building on the new beginning and figuring out who we want to be when we grow up. I’m excited about our future direction and look forward to sharing our new purpose and strategies with the community next year.
If you had not ended up at Health Forward, what do you think you would be doing now? I would still be doing communications and still be working in the nonprofit space here in the region…. Unless my pipedream came true, and I became the owner of the Denver Broncos. (My Health Forward and Chiefs-loving coworkers would be disappointed if I didn’t work the Broncos in here somehow!)
Where do you think Health Forward will be 15 years from now?We will see systems, organizations, and people working together on securing health equity for our region. Health Forward will have a leading voice in that work. We’ll see in our communications and throughout our communities a focus on changing the narrative and talking about our work and our communities from an asset-based perspective. We will see Medicaid expansion in Kansas. And we’ll be doing it all from our new, permanent physical home.
On Jen’s 15th anniversary, we also wanted to give her colleagues the chance to share some thoughts, stories, and memories about Jen.
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