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Distinguished Alumnae Achievement Award: Jennifer Johnstone ’78

The Distinguished Alumnae Achievement Award is presented to an alumna in recognition of her achievement in a particular field or industry and for her role in advancing women in leadership in society and/or workplace. The Crofton House School Alumnae Association is pleased to award Jennifer Johnstone ’78 the 2019 Distinguished Achievement Award for her dedication and accomplishments in non-profit management and community resource development

Following Jennifer’s graduation from Crofton House in 1978, Jennifer received her BA from Queen’s University and pursued graduate studies at the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies and in Women Studies at Carlton University. Since the late 1980s Jennifer has developed an extensive career in non-profit management and community resource development, holding key leadership positions with organizations such as the Vancity Community Foundation, Battered Women’s Support Services and Ballet British Columbia. Jennifer currently holds the position of President & CEO with Central City Foundation, leading innovative investment in social purpose real estate that improves the lives in Metro Vancouver’s inner-city communities. Jennifer remains passionately committed to social justice and community investment and volunteers in many capacities with various organizations at the local, provincial and national levels. She is the founding member of the Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative and the Vancouver Women’s Fund. She has most recently served on the Board of Alliance for Arts and Culture, Battered Women’s Support Services, Yaletown House Foundation, Westcoast LEAF and Aurora Institute. She also volunteers as a trainer with the Leadership Development of Volunteer Vancouver. In addition to her role in advancing women in leadership in society, her work creates lasting impacts on entire communities in need within our city.

Creating a Lasting Impact

Speaking at the Crofton House School birthday celebration, which fell on International Woman’s Day, Jennifer Johnstone ’78 took the opportunity to recommit to advancing gender equity. Hearing Jennifer speak, there is no doubt that her career and volunteer work have created a lasting impact on the community and helped advance equity and social justice for many.  

When thinking about her time at Crofton House , Jennifer noted she was “an ordinary student, no special blazers for me” but that she “owes a debt to Crofton House and my classmates as they helped lay a foundation for success and joy by preparing me for a lifetime of learning and instilling in me a deep curiosity about the world, about its people and their struggles.”

Jennifer came to Crofton House in Grade 10, motivated by her mother’s vision of the opportunities that were possible with a good education. “It was her experience that if you wanted to have independence and choices as a woman, you needed to get a good education” says Jennifer. After Crofton House, Jennifer continued her education at Queen’s University and Carlton University where she pursued Soviet Eastern European Studies with a specialty in women’s studies. Her interest in the Soviet Union sparked by a history teacher at Crofton House who stressed the “dangers of communism” – like any good Crofton House student, Jennifer had to learn more for herself.  

Jennifer’s career has taken her to many non-profit organizations from helping to start the Whistler Centre for the Business and the Arts, to the Vancouver Status of Woman and the Vancouver Foundation. Her focus has always been on trying to end violence towards woman and advance social justice – “trying to building an inclusive community, one where everybody has the opportunity to participate and pursue their dreams”. 

Jennifer is currently President and CEO of Central City Foundation, an organization which, for over a 100 years, has helped to bring together resources to help transform communities. Working with community partners, Central City Foundation “invests where others won’t” to remove barriers and provide safe, secure and affordable places for community organizations, believing strongly that providing these spaces allows organizations to create innovative, community-lead programs that truly help people. 

For Jennifer “Central City Foundation is about building hope – not just giving hope to others but rather building hope in all of us that a better world is possible. It brings to life the reality that we can build a better community. We can do that by walking alongside our neighbours and recognizing that we are all in this community together.” 

The organization concentrates on actions in three areas – women, children and youth and Indigenous people. Recognizing there is much overlap in these, Jennifer reflected on some of the recent ways the organization has been able help woman, including support for the opening of Vancouver’s first 24-hour shelter for woman and for the Vancouver Woman’s Health Collective, a women-only health clinic on the downtown eastside. Central City Foundation is also co-convening a group of more than 25 local woman’s organizations to organize a series of events that will run in parallel with the international Woman Deliver conference in June, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women.  

When thinking about the qualities needed to do this work, Jennifer mentions both resilience and tenacity, but more than anything, the idea of doing what you love and finding joy and value in your work. In Jennifer’s words “to work in the non-profit sector, always for social justice, has been my source of joy and success.” Jennifer measures success by having the opportunity to follow her passion, something she hopes that Crofton House girls today will think about as they go out into the world.