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Connie Philipenko a.k.a. Ja Ja Con
One Woman: Two Amazing Stories

Despite her youthful aspirations, Philipenko wasn't a likely candidate for altruistic adventures abroad. Graduating from Turtle Lake High School and marrying soon after, she became a widow with children at 24.

After moving to Minot and working a $4-an-hour job, she realized she needed a college degree to give her family a good life.

"I was 42 years old and scared to death when I enrolled at Minot State in 1992,"Philipenko said. "I ran into my friend Joan (Brunner) Anderson ’97. I told her, ‘What was I thinking? I can't give my children the attention they need, plus work full time, plus go to school full time.’ Joan looked me in the eye and said, ‘You must do this for your kids.’"

In 1997, Philipenko graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science and signed up for one year with AmeriCorps VISTA. It didn't pay much, but she eased into the workplace and discovered "what needed to be done in Minot."

AmeriCorps VISTA placed Philipenko with the Minot Housing Authority. She eventually accepted a full-time position with the authority to coordinate its family self-efficiency program.

In 2010, she became the vocational services director, helping public housing residents find the resources they need to obtain work. In taking the job, Philipenko fulfilled her girlhood dream by serving others who are less fortunate.

Philipenko’s multiple mission trips to Africa started in 2005. She joined a Wisconsin church group planning to work in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. Philipenko thrived and decided to return every two years for the rest of her life.

Philipenko organizes trips through her own Heart For Africa Missions, saving Africa "one village at a time."Money donated to the organization goes towards humanitarian efforts. This summer, the group will distribute baby blankets that tribal leaders can present to new mother, sandals to protect children’s feet and soccer balls.

To learn more about Philipenko’s African adventures...