One year after our dear friend and CSFTL colleague Jennifer Penick died, our own Heathyr shares her thoughts on how much Jennifer impacted the work we do here at CSFTL and impacted Heathyr’s own life.
It was just another day. I sat down at my desk with my LATCH manual and a cup of coffee, prepared to assist parents with their car seat questions. I checked in with our team before heading in to our Facebook group, as usual. I never expected to see a life altering message there. I must have read the words five times before its meaning finally sunk in. When it did, I screamed. Our colleague and friend Jennifer Penick and her husband had been killed in a car crash, leaving behind their five children including their youngest, five year old Unity, who survived the crash. The next few weeks are a blur of disbelief and tears. I attended her funeral. I met her wonderful friends and family and celebrated her life and grieved our loss with them. I returned to my work in CPS, re-committed to helping as many parents as I could, to give every parent I came across the confidence to keep their child safe. To ensure that if they experience the trauma of a crash, their children will survive, as Unity did.
Penick was honored at the 2018 Kidz in Motion conference as one of their CPS Heroes then again at the 2019 Lifesavers conference, where she was given the CPST of the Year award. I sobbed when I first saw the videos of those ceremonies. I’ve watched them maybe a dozen times now and still can’t view them without tears. These awards are an incredible honor for Penick, but she would have downplayed them.
She didn’t do this work for the recognition. She was content to work behind the scenes, a nameless ninja in our inbox answering questions, assisting with keeping the website up to date, working with manufacturers to update the team on the latest developments and newest seats. She’d poof in and out of the group, answering as many posts as she could before returning to her busy life as a working mother of five, or switching gears and offering support in one of the many other online communities she was part of, from birthing groups to Autism support networks. If there was a need and she had the knowledge to share, she was there.
Her work in not only the online CPS community but also locally, as a technician, an autism advocate, doula, and nurse showed a commitment to helping others that was beyond compare. Without a doubt, she was a hero. Penick taught me so much over the years. She taught me the importance of self care, the value of faith, the strength in breaking down, the power in pursuing your dreams. She inspired me throughout our friendship — to be a better technician, a better woman, a better mother, a better human. She was tireless, and no matter the challenges, she faced them, head on, with a fierce dedication to her family, to her causes, to her community. She did it all because she wanted parents to have the information she did not have when her first child was born. She started as an inexperienced parent, and grew to be one of the most knowledgeable and involved CPSTs I know, pioneering online education and changing the face of CPS work forever.
In the weeks that followed her death, things changed. There was a necessary dynamics shift within our organization as we tried to take on her tasks, knowing full well that we couldn’t fill her shoes. Beyond that though, I changed. We all changed in some ways. My approach to my work as a CPST changed in a way I didn’t expect. The internet can make us forget that we are all humans, that we share the same struggles, the same joys, the same devastations in life.
Every day, I am reminded that life is fleeting. There are no guarantees. I may not be here tomorrow to do what I’m putting off today. The person I am helping today may get into a crash next week. Today. Tomorrow. Next year. Their child could be Unity — surviving a statistically unsurvivable crash thanks to the proper use of a child restraint.
The seemingly endless stream of repeat questions and answers makes a difference. Education saves lives.
Calming the nerves of an anxious new mom leaving the hospital, assisting a frustrated parent with a difficult installation, relating to the defensive parent who doesn’t understand the importance of using their child’s car seat correctly — every human connection we make through this work can make a significant impact in the life of a child, in the life of a family. Every parent is a Penick, starting with zero knowledge and a desire to keep their child safe, wanting to ensure that should the worst happen, their child walks away, even if they do not. Those parents we help are putting themselves out there, to ask for help, becoming heroes themselves.
So as we remember Jennifer a year after her death, we are here, armed with our LATCH manuals and coffee, ready to face the challenges of the day. Ready for the next question, ready to help the next hero.
CPSTs — Be that hero.
Parents — Ask for help.
We are here, continuing the work that was so near to Jennifer’s heart.