If there is one word to capture the spirit of Jen Tibbits, “feisty” hits the mark. You can see the pluck in her gait, in the way she prods you with her eyes and warns she’s going to “tell it to you straight.”
Born in Everett in 1984, Jen grew up in the foster care system. From 12 through 29, she was on and off the streets — and therefore in and out of school. She remembers starting, but not finishing, ninth grade.
While living in a group home, she discovered her love for rock climbing and mountaineering, as well as camping. “One of my favorite things to do is go camping for real,” she said, “not just pitching a tent outside and calling it a day.”
Gresham, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; Watersmeet, Mich.; Greensburg, Penn.: The list of places she’s lived and visited stretches across the nation. She spent the past two years in Pennsylvania after scrounging up bus fare to join some of her East-coast buddies. She found full-time work at a factory a few towns over from her housing and, over time, created her own business. Dubbed Jen’s Arts, her artistry is still alive today. “I do plastic canvas crochet, stress balls and other craftsy stuff I decide I’m into,” she said.
Although she’s now settled in Seattle, Jen still has a hint of wanderlust. On her bucket list of places to see: Japan, not to mention Scotland, as she’s “part of the Kelly clan.” Like Disney’s Scottish heroine, Merida, from the flick “Brave,” Jen happens to be talented with a bow and arrow. “I learned at summer camp. From the time I picked archery up, I was really good at it. I won three tournaments. “Now, I usually do it at SCA events (Society of Creative Anachronism),” she said, referring to the international group that recreates the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe.
Jen became a Real Change vendor after her friend persuaded her. “I’ve seen vendors around for many years. I figured, why not?” Although she’s only been a vendor for two months, Jen has already earned her own 300-club selling location. “Somehow, my friend knew I would reach it. I started on November 28th,” she said. “I really love selling Real Change. I get to make my own hours; I don’t have to work on somebody else’s time clock or call in sick. The flexibility of it is great.”
Living with a serious illness that affects her stamina, Jen says the support from her customers at the Ballard Starbucks on 22nd and Market keeps her going. “The customers are really awesome, even if they don’t buy papers from me. They’re some of the nicest people I have ever met. This is the best way for me to make money.”