Crooks, who lives in Sandpoint, ID, and Soddo, Ethiopia — the site of Uryadi’s Village flagship development — was unable to attend the dinner, so Alumnae Council President-Elect Ginny Robbins ’91 presented the award in absentia “Jennifer was nominated by Isabella ‘Simmie’ Askari, also Class of 1991, who said, ‘She is a beautiful example of how we can all make a difference in the lives of other individuals and in other communities,’” Robbins said. “And I sincerely believe that is Jennifer’s root personality trait — she is the embodiment of Foxcroft’s core value: an understanding heart.” Robbins, a classmate of Jennifer’s, recalled meeting her during their sophomore year at Foxcroft. “She was a rider, and she was going to be in the Olympics. I had never met anyone who was as confident and determined as Jennifer,” Robbins recalled.
Jennifer did indeed become an outstanding rider, competing as a Grand Prix show jumper on the international circuit and participating in 11 Nations Cups. For 20 years, she and her husband Mike, also an international rider, owned and operated a highly successful show jumping corporation.
Jennifer’s trademark confidence and determination, together with abundant passion and plenty of hard work led Jennifer in 2014 to create Uryadi’s Village, whose mission is to support orphanages and families in regions where major segments of the population live in extreme poverty. The keystone of Uryadi’s Village’s mission is to empower the local people to build a model village that is self-sustaining and not reliant on foreign aid. They do so by finding solutions to these three key problems: water, sanitation, and food sourcing.
In 2004, though, Jennifer discovered another passion when the couple traveled to rural China and adopted their daughter Sophie. It was there that Jennifer witnessed the extreme poverty which many of the world’s children are abandoned to each day. Jennifer seriously considered leaving the competitive riding world and devoting her full attention to caring for underserved children, specifically orphans. At the recommendation of a dear friend, though, Jennifer instead continued to compete and rise through the ranks, simultaneously using her success to build a network and raise money that would support her next great endeavor: Uryadi’s Village.
In 2014, Uryadi's Village was founded and named in honor of Jennifer's longtime show jumping partner, a beautiful white mare named Uryadi. She began working with people in Ethiopia, which has one of the highest rates of orphaned children in the world, to create a community that would change their lives.
Jennifer then returned to school and completed a Permaculture Design Course for International Development & Social Entrepreneurship, and also became certified as a nurse practitioner. Together with world-renowned design consultant Warren Brush, she created a plan, and in the summer of 2016, they broke ground on another Uryadi’s Village initiative called Wolayta Village in Soddo. This village is made up of a series of family-style huts (which can house up to 60 children and seven housemothers), a community center, health clinic, bakery, and a small factory to make a protein-rich Ethiopian staple called mitten. The idea is that villages like Wolayta will be able to provide all of their own housing, water, food, energy, and economic needs while nourishing the community and ecological systems around it.
“Jennifer Fill Crooks truly demonstrates commitment in her daily life, and I would be remiss to go without saying that in addition to founding such an incredible organization, Jennifer has adopted 11 children who were originally from areas her organization now supports,” said Robbins.
The Distinguished Alumna Award is presented by the Alumnae Association to honor an alumna who embodies the core values of the School: Respect, Integrity, Kindness, and Service; and who has honed a passion that she discovered while at Foxcroft and is sharing with the world. An alumna can be nominated for expertise and accomplishment in her profession, or for her contribution of positive, long-lasting change within her community. If you know an alumna who is deserving of this honor, please nominate her.