It’s hard to think of a more faithful and generous couple than Dennis and Janie Henderson.
Since their marriage in 2015 — with Dennis’s longstanding friendship going back even further — Dennis and Janie have been at the core of the African Road community in Portland. This dynamic duo brings their fun energy and spirit of giving to a wide range of involvements, including spearheading our Annual Gala and hosting gatherings in their lovely Lake Oswego home. Most recently, Dennis emceed and Janie gifted us with her vocals at our “Meet African Road” event, held at the Oregon Wine Reserve on December 2nd.
I had the chance to chat with Dennis and Janie about what giving means to them and what inspires them about African Road.
Jennifer: There are over 20,000 nonprofits in Oregon. Of all of these, why do you choose to support African Road?
Dennis: It is the heart of African Road to involve others in the community — friends, relatives, etc. So, that personal touch and involvement singled African Road out for me. We had a connection with someone who invited us into the circle of friendship.
Janie: I became involved because I married Dennis. I’m so glad I did! It’s such a great organization.
Jennifer: What do you think makes African Road’s work different from other organizations/charities that work in Africa?
Dennis: What I perceive that is different is that that African Road is not seeking to simply be an aid organization, but one that empowers people and assists them in accomplishing the things that are important in their own community and giving them opportunities to have a stable future, economically and by working in order to have the basics such as food and water. That difference of approach allows us to feel like we’re partnering and walking alongside so that we feel like it’s partly our project too.
Janie: I love that African Road is helping people to help themselves instead of giving a handout, which many organizations do — which is nice and a generous thing to do — but I love the concept of people empowering themselves.
Jennifer: Why is giving important to you?
Dennis: Because, to be honest, I remember a time when I was in a place of not having much, and generous people came alongside me during that difficult time in my life in my early years. I always thought if I ever got to a place where I could help others, I wanted to do that. And because of African Road, I have one avenue to give back and to assist others in their time of need as well. So it brings great satisfaction to me as an appreciation for what I’ve received.
Janie: I will say I don’t come from a place of struggling times for years and years, but as a single mom, things were very tight, and I do appreciate how comfortable I am now. I mean, we take so much for granted in America. Dennis and I are beyond blessed. It is a great feeling to give anything we can. It fills my heart with joy.
Jennifer: What is your most memorable volunteer experience with African Road?
Janie: My most memorable was the first gala when Dennis and I were engaged. It was held at the Sentinel Hotel. And we were there from morning until late at night. It was so much fun! I felt like we had been at camp for a week. The entire set up time was full of energy, and warm people, and just positive vibes. I didn’t know that much about African Road at that point, but it was so great meeting new people. We had a full table of guests, friends and family, and I felt so proud that evening to have them as our guests! The guests loved their evening too.
Dennis: My most memorable experience was the first event that I attended because the Hromcos had invited me. It had a really nice community feel. It was at the Lewis’s house, and we met in the backyard and they had set up tables, and we had Mexican food catered. We set up a screen and we showed some videos. It was really cool.
Dennis: Which African Road project or partnership is closest to your heart?
Janie: Well, I will say the preschool project because I’m a preschool teacher. I adore all kids. Love the preschool age. I teach in Lake Oswego; these kids are very privileged. Just to see the teachers and the children in Rwanda thrilled with their preschool and the progress that’s been made there is amazing.
Dennis: The project closest to my heart is the Batwa partnership. Getting those ID cards and seeing them farm and getting produce, and having a place to store it, especially given all the unrest in Burundi.
Jennifer: What are your hobbies and interests outside of work and volunteering with African Road?
Dennis: Janie and I enjoy going to concerts, and we seem to stay pretty busy in our social lives eating out with friends. I’ve also been enjoying making decisions with Janie in our remodel that’s gone on for several years. Those are the kinds of things that I like to do. And I love sports! College sports, I love watching Duke and Gonzaga. I follow the Beavers in baseball and Ducks in basketball.
Janie: I love to read historical fiction novels, writing and performing music, walking for exercise… and I like to go antiquing.
Dennis: That’s why she married me! I’m an antique!
Janie: And I love refurbish things. And everything that Dennis mentioned. I love hanging out with our friends together and our family.
Jennifer: Do you have any advice for others who may want to get involved with African Road?
Dennis: I would say come to an event and hear Kelly share the stories, and that will give anyone an opportunity to open their hearts to what’s happening and give it a shot.