Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Jenna Lawrence

My friendship with Jenna Lawrence is older than most people. In Summer 2018 I will have known her for 25 years, from our days wearing Tweety Bird t-shirts to Abercrombie (yes, even me), to our respective vintage button-downs (me) and Phish-themed tank tops (she). I never had a sister, but I have Jenna, so it’s close enough. 

I meet up with her at a YMCA of South Palm Beach County, where she is the Director of Youth Development. She is responsible for their afterschool program, their holiday camps and summer camps, as well as their dance, swimming, gymnastics, and karate programs. The walls of her office are covered in drawings addressed to “Ms. Jenna,” all manner of rainbows and stick figures and hearts from the children she interacts with all year, as well as holiday cards from their parents. Since becoming Director, her afterschool program was named the best in the county by South Florida Parenting magazine, and there are now more kids enrolled in her Y’s programs than there have ever been before. Jenna also started a children’s yoga program at her Y, which she teaches. 

Children regularly come in to visit with Ms. Jenna. An art activity for the day was to make a turkey from a plastic glove (unlined and unpowdered, don’t worry) by filling it with snacks, so they ask can you please cut this open for me, can I please throw this away? “So you only filled your glove with M&Ms and marshmallows?” Jenna says to one little girl. “Nothing of substance, no popcorn or pretzels?” The little girl laughs. “Well, no, I like M&Ms! And you gotta have marshmallows!” Jenna laughs and sends them on their way. 

Soon children pack up for the day, and Jenna sits behind a desk at the entrance for dismissal. Slowly but surely kids leave, picked up by parents Jenna warmly greets with the same sing-song “Hell-lao-ooow” I’ve known for years. Then it’s our turn to leave. We go to pick up Jenna’s dog, Piper, from a friend’s house that Piper has been visiting while Jenna’s been away. We open the door and Piper runs downstairs, standing on her hind legs, pawing Jenna’s arms and chest with her front legs as if to hug her. Jenna often says that though Piper is a rescue, the dog actually saved her life. Riding back to Jenna’s place, Piper sits on Aunt Elyssa’s lap so Piper doesn’t accidentally shift the car into neutral. 

Jenna has a new apartment. It’s her first time living alone and she really likes it. There’s a corner set up with posters from music festivals and a Grateful Dead wall-hanging that will soon have space for her to do yoga. She changes and we head to the chic Mizner Park plaza for dinner. There’s beautiful light from the pristine lampposts and I try to take some pictures of Jenna in front of them but we keep giggling. “This is so weird,” she laughs. “Can we go eat now?”

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