40 Under 40 The Class of 2013

Jennifer Root

Clinical Director, Center for Human Development, age 37

Root-JenniferWhen she was in high school, Jenn Root took a test to determine her ideal career paths. The matches that popped up, she recalled, were librarian, teacher, and social worker. “I said, ‘what the heck is a social worker?’”
But in college, she took a psychology class and loved it; that piqued her interest in social work, which she eventually chose as her major.
In that field, she has sought out opportunities to help some of society’s most challenged constituencies, working with various organizations to provide social services to disadvantaged children, adolescents, and families. She’s doing the same today as clinical director in the Center for Human Development’s Terri Thomas Girls Program.
As a detention unit for adolescent girls, it’s not the most cheerful job. “They’re in a tough place in their lives, and they come from different places in terms of emotional stability and mental health,” Root said. “A lot of the girls have a history of trauma.
“It’s not the kind of job where you see immediate results, and if you need immediate gratification to feel good about your work, it would be hard,” she continued, adding that her work is focused mainly on stabilizing these rough situations. “I like to think of it as planting a seed; you don’t really see it grow, but it does, and even when the girls come back to us, we can see the change and the growth. And you’re supporting them while they grow and change.”
As her photo suggests, Root is an avid runner, who has competed in two marathons and countless road races. “This job can be very stressful,” she said. “Running is my outlet.”
Her physical fitness came in handy the time she climbed the roof of a building to talk a client out of hurting herself. But saving and changing lives is usually a less dramatic, more gradual process.
“This is a small chapter in their life,” Root said. “In the moment, it can be hard to understand that they won’t be in the system forever, but, rather, they have an opportunity to change. They don’t have to have the same life their parents did; they can blaze new trails and create their own future.”

— Joseph Bednar