August 2014 Articles

Stay-at-Home Mom Lands Job! Batkid Saves San Francisco!

24_Jen WilsonAt her job, Jen Watt Wilson ’90 plans dreams—and makes magic—for children with life-threatening illnesses.


By Joanna Corman ’95

Jen Watt Wilson ’90, a former stay-at-home mom, knew she would return to work but had no firm timeline. When one of her two sons said to her, “‘Moms don’t have jobs,’” she knew it was time.

“I thought that was such a red flag,” Wilson says, “I don’t want to raise men who think that a woman’s role is in the home.”

Wilson wanted her sons, who entered the fifth and seventh grades in September, to appreciate her education, work experience, and her choice to stay home.

Before starting a family, Wilson earned an MBA from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Her ambitions drove her to Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, where she worked as a product manager at Excite@Home, one of the three major search engines in the late 1990s.

She envisioned a high-tech, high-powered career. But circumstances can derail even the best-laid plans. In 2001, two years after graduating from Tuck, the Internet bubble burst and companies were shedding employees. Wilson lost her job. And surprise—she was pregnant.

After raising two sons full time for a decade, she re-entered the job market in 2011 at the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Greater Bay Area Chapter in San Francisco as a marketing manager. Now marketing director, Wilson recently helped orchestrate a wish for Miles Scott, a kindergartner battling leukemia since he was 20 months old. He is now in remission. Miles wanted to be his hero, Batman, for the day. Along with her colleagues, the San Francisco Police Department, and city employees, Wilson helped transform San Francisco into Gotham City last November and turned Miles into Batman’s sidekick, “Batkid.”

The event earned the nonprofit more media and volunteer attention than any wish in the national organization’s 34-year history. It was also a viral hit, generating more than 500,000 tweets, 16,000 Instagram photos, and a congratulatory Vine to Miles from President Obama.

When she started looking for work, Wilson says she feared a 10-year resume gap would make her a weak job candidate. But she had kept her skills sharp by pursuing volunteer work and one paid, project-based job that offered networking opportunities and employed her skills in balancing budgets, writing, and researching.

Wilson first contacted Patricia Suflita Wilson (no relation), her former boss and the executive director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s San Francisco-based chapter.

With Patricia’s encouragement, Wilson applied for two openings. She was runner-up for the first but was offered the second, a newly created marketing manager position in charge of social media.

Patricia says Wilson is a natural leader: “She takes something and makes it way better than I could have ever imagined. I trust her implicitly.”

Wilson’s initial concern was childcare. Who would pick up her sons after school, shuttle them to activities, and ensure they finished their homework? She quickly found a reliable babysitter, the key, she says, to making her household run smoothly.

While she loves her job, Wilson says the transition hasn’t been easy. “Having so many demands for my attention” is the biggest challenge of being a full-time employee, mother, and wife, she says.

Going back to work initially was hard on her oldest son, who questioned her choice.

“He would say things like, ‘Why do you have to work? I wish you didn’t work,’” Wilson says.

She tells her sons about the hardships and wishes of the children accepted for Make-A-Wish and takes them to events so they can understand her job.

She finds Bryn Mawr’s values reflected in her work.

“I think [Bryn Mawr] made me appreciate how important it is to be articulate and to have convictions for what you believe in, and not feel any reluctance to be a strong woman in this society,” she says. At Make-A-Wish, Wilson and her colleagues help children as young as 2½ and teenagers up to 18 facing life-threatening illnesses to live their dreams.

“Planning wishes is like creating magic,” Wilson says.