Jen Sanders grew up in Burnham, Illinois, a close-knit, small town that built the foundation for her strong connection to a sense of community.
“I love that small-town feel,” Sanders said. “It was only a 1.8-mile radius town, but we thought it was the world. It was the kind of place where everybody knew everybody, and we all looked after each other.”
Sanders resides in Kouts, and continues to embrace the charm and character that only small-town communities radiate.
Growing up with a brother of just one-year difference in age, Sanders spent a lot of time being one of the boys.
“It was so much fun being a tomboy and keeping up with him and his friends,” Sanders said. “We were very athletic and played a lot of sports.” She continues her active lifestyle today.
“I love playing volleyball with my best friend Jen, and softball with my daughter, Haley,” Sanders said. “I’ve also coached Haley as well, which can make things interesting when she’s on the field.”
Sanders also has a huge passion for music, and attends as many concerts as she can.
“I’m a rock and roll girl for sure. Country is finally growing on me, too, but I really love rock. I went to see Tom Petty last year before he died, so that was really awesome!” she said.
Sanders works as manager of the Breast Center at Methodist Hospital, where she’s been making a difference for nearly 20 years.
“I have a lot of passion for my job and for my community,” Sanders said. “I always tell my team, these patients might not be our mother, or our aunt, or our sister, but they are that person to somebody, and we’re going to reach down deep and do the best we can for these women.”
“What you permit you promote,” Sanders said. “I’m always trying to push the envelope and do my best to improve things.”
This is undeniably the case when it comes to her work in the Breast Center. She wrote and received a grant that allows the center to cover treatment costs for patients who may otherwise not be able to afford it.
“It took me several years of writing up grants, but I finally received one through Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears,” Sanders said. “We use it to fuel our No Woman Left Behind program, which helps us cover women in need of treatment and procedures with no limitations based on age, or boundaries of any kind.”
Sanders took over the program after Donna Faitak, her former boss and mentor, went on to become manager of a breast center at another hospital.
“Donna handed me the reigns when she left and I promised her that I wouldn’t disappoint her,” Sanders said. “She’s very passionate and driven, a real firecracker, and her integrity is very admirable.”
Sanders says her friend Kate Smock, part of the X-ray team at Methodist Hospital, also has played an influential role in her life.
“Kate is a leader through and through,” Sanders said. “She’s just solid, always does the right thing. That’s the kind of people she and Donna are, and the kind of person I’ve always strived to be.”
Sanders thinks the best place in the world is Surf City, North Carolina on Top Sale Island. Though the soft sand and beautiful beaches there would be enough to bring in anyone for a visit, the coastal paradise has a sentimental meaning for her.
“My husband was a marine, and when we first got married, he was stationed there,” Sanders said. “We lived on the beach, and it was just such a peaceful and hopeful environment.”
Sanders and her family have returned to Surf City frequently over the years, and she plans to retire there when the time comes.
“It reminds me of my youth, young love, and all the hopes and dreams I’ve had that have come true,” Sanders said. “My son is also a marine and has been stationed down there as well. He and his wife want to retire there, too someday. It’s funny how things have come full circle with that.”
While she’s certainly had an impact on the many lives she’s touched as a mother, friend, and manager of the Breast Center, Sanders says she has to acknowledge the many people who have touched her life as well.
“I’m not who I am without all the great people my path has crossed,” Sanders said. “Even those who I didn’t quite click with have taught me something. We all have the opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives, and I’m very grateful for all the people that have made a difference in mine. They all mean something to be, whether they’re here or gone.”