Kenneth Jennings


LIFE Center Spotlight featuring Kenneth J.


In 1988, just after kickoff, Chicago high school football player Kenneth Jennings made a tackle that left him paralyzed from
the neck down. He was a patient at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab when he met Darryl Stingley, a former professional football player who had sustained a similar injury during an NFL game and subsequently also used a wheelchair. “He was still enjoying life and doing all these different things, and he understood what I was going through,” remembers Jennings. “After that, we built a relationship where he was like my father, friend and mentor. He taught me what it was like to be a man using a wheelchair. I wanted to give back like he gave to me.”

How did you become a peer mentor?

“About seven years ago, I was talking to the kids on the pediatric floor, just trying to encourage them, and one of the therapists said to me, ‘You should be a peer mentor.’ A couple of days later, the LIFE Center Manager Lisa Rosen stopped by and introduced herself. I had been coaching high school football for a number of years. Coaching is really just mentoring, so I was already kind of prepared for it.”

Why is the peer mentor program so important?

“Peer mentors bring to patients what nobody else can — someone who knows what they’re going through. We understand the difficulties that are going to come their way, and can bridge the gap of that loneliness, that lostness. We can guide them, inspire them and show them that life is not over.”

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