WHO WE ARE
Meet Our Team
A COMMON VISION
Jennifer graduated from Michigan State University with a B.S. in Anthropology and Social Science, with a focus on indigenous peoples. After graduating she earned a certification from American Travel School and worked as a travel agent for three years. She transitioned to the events industry where she has worked for the past 26 years. She has worked as an Executive Assistant at a global entertainment company, Special Events Director at an historical venue in Detroit, and currently as a Sales Manager at the convention center in downtown Detroit.
Jennifer has traveled to Haiti several times, twice with her church to support their mission of building and restoring an orphanage in a rural area outside of Port-au-Prince. She has a beautiful daughter adopted from Haiti who is the light of her life. Jennifer enjoys reading, cooking, volunteering, exercise and travel. She also loves spending time with friends, family and the occasional beloved family pet.
Jennifer Berkemeier, President;
Communications - Social Media
Joelle Birge, Vice President;
Communications - Newsletter
Joelle first visited Haiti while leading a volunteer trip to an orphanage outside of Port-au-Prince in 2017. She went on to become a co-leader on the Board of Directors for that orphanage. In that role, she led fundraising campaigns, designed marketing strategies, and forged partnerships to raise funds and awareness.
Joelle has a background in finance and is currently a Vice President at Missio Invest, an impact investor focused on agriculture projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. She holds an M.B.A. and an M.A. in International Studies from the Universitiy of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Lauder Institute and a B.A. in English and American Literature from Princeton University.
Joelle is passionate about supporting the futures of children and young adults and has volunteered with organizations such as Student Sponsor Partners, Access Better Learning and Education and Philadelphia's YouthBuild. She teaches Sunday school at her church and is a member of the New York Junior League.
Kelly is excited to be on the Avek Ou Board, and thankful for the opportunity. When Kelly was little her family sponsored children around the world. She is excited to work with children again and hopefully inspire others.
Kelly works in the event industry and enjoys helping others see their vision through to the end. When she isn’t working, she enjoys family time and her rescued dog, Annie. Kelly is a vegetarian, a chocolate lover and a sommelier, who enjoys working to save the environment as well. In the summers she is outside as much as possible, soaking in the beautiful sun.
Kelly Kaneko, Secretary;
Amanda is a wife and mom to two beautiful children, in addition to working as Program Director for a Marketing Services Company in Southeast Michigan. She has been leading client accounts and operations teams for over 25 years, with management experience in a variety of operational areas. In the past Amanda has served on her children's school PTA Board as Secretary and Treasurer. In her spare time, she loves to spend time at home with her family. Hobbies include cooking and baking, sewing, puzzles, walking and road trips.
Amanda received her BA in Sociology from Kalamazoo College, a small liberal arts college in Southwest Michigan, whose curriculum inspires an appreciation of different cultures. Her interest in Haiti was born out of love for her niece (adopted from Haiti) and sister, Jennifer.
Amanda Blanchard, Treasurer
Amy L Charles
Messaging - Brand Editor
Amy is a lifelong lover of words and the past Editorial Director at Serendipity Media in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she influenced print and online content for multiple audiences, polished messages, created a voice for others, and told the stories of a diverse range of people who make an impression on their communities, in ways great and small.
She has long been aware of the world outside her window and the inequities and challenges affecting people around the globe. Amy is a strong supporter of the arts, an advocate for fairness and equality, a friend to animals, and a diplomatic voice of reason. She never forgot what it felt like to be a child and hopes tomorrow will be a better day for youth everywhere, as shown through her involvement on the board of the erstwhile Mind Meets Music and support of the local children's museum and other projects. The world is wide enough for us all!
Kris is thrilled to join the Avek Ou team, and work on such a meaningful cause. Kris was born in Hawaii, grew up in Michigan, lived in Chicago for 25 years, and finally circled back to the Mitten State to be closer to family. She's worked in the travel business for 25 years, and is currently a travel agent at a company based in Chicago. She's been fortunate her career has enabled her to see the world and experience a variety of other cultures up close. Her sister was adopted from India in 1980, so she understands the profound difference it makes in the lives of children to know they are valued and cared for, and given an opportunity to reach their full potential.
In her spare time, she relishes reading, gardening, dominoes, spa days, checking out local markets, and spending time with family, including her grandparents who just celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary. She still enjoys travel that expands her understanding of the global community and the place we all have within it.
Jemmy lives in Marlique / Petionville, a neighborhood of the capital Port-au-Prince. He attended National Lycee of Petionville for high school, and went on to earn a degree in Civil Engineering at the American University of Modern Sciences (UNASMOH) near the Haitian capital. Jemmy studied English at the Haitian American Institute and makes a living as a translator for English-speaking groups visiting Haiti. Jemmy, who has a passion for Haitian food, loves mixing rice with beans, vegetables and meat to create new dishes. He also loves to play soccer and read, and devotes his free time to personal and spiritual development. Jemmy's vision for the Centre and our mission is a large piece of land with modern structures that include a school and dormitory, and a playground. He hopes that some day all of the boys under our care will have access to continuing education so that they can be self-sufficient.
Jemmy is married, with two beautiful young boys.
Board Liaison (based in Haiti)
Dawn Barth, volunteer
Dawn is a twenty-year veteran of the meetings and event industry, currently enjoying her job as Director of Sales & Marketing at the Cambria Hotel Detroit Downtown, in MI. In the past, she has enjoyed her work at boutique hotels as well as Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. She specializes in hotel operations, catering/convention services, and event sales, and has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. She is a past board president for Meeting Professionals International, Michigan Chapter (MPI MI) for the 2015 / 2016 year. She has been recognized by Starwood in 2015 as a Top Producer for Group Sales in the Midwest/Detroit Area and as a “40 Under 40” Industry Leader by Connect Meetings.
Dawn enjoys the great outdoors and loves time spent with friends and family. She has a passion for volunteering for children's charities and is thrilled to be touching the lives of children in Haiti. Dawn is also an avid traveler and loves the Detroit Lions, spending time with her Catahoula Leopard Dogs, and working on her farm in Kentucky.
All people in this world have a right to opportunity: the right to have a dream and be able to act on that vision. Potential exists in all of us; imagine if all of us had access to opportunity?