By Chrissie Ferguson
Jenny Wallack Schenk’s long road with Pearl Jam began in 1994, thanks to her trusty walkman and a bus ride to Washington, D.C. with her 8th-grade class.
It was one song, in particular — “Dissident” — that put the walkman’s rewind button and the durability of her new cassette tape of Vs. to the test. “The song rattled me…the words, the music, Mike’s riff, the whole thing just got me,” Schenk said. “And that’s really the first time I remember connecting with a Pearl Jam song.”
Live music had always been a huge part of Schenk’s high school and college years, but Schenk (Jenny Wallack, at the time) had not yet seen a Pearl Jam show live.
So when Jenny met the man of her dreams — Rob Schenk — who also loved live music, she knew that she had to win him over with tickets to a live Pearl Jam show. And it was not just ANY Pearl Jam show; it was the sold-out September 11th, 1998 show in Madison Square Garden.
“I remember being totally blown away by the musical experience and the vibe of everyone who was there,” Schenk reminisced. “At that time in my life, I had been touring with Phish and Dave Matthews, but I had never seen a Pearl Jam show. That was a pivotal moment in my life – both musically and romantically, and we never really looked back.”
So what happened after that show? Well, as you may have guessed, Pearl Jam united the two love birds, and the adventures began as the couple (who later married and had three boys) saw Pearl Jam play live as often as possible.
Whether it was meeting the members of the band, discovering a new vacation destination, or developing relationships with individuals in the Pearl Jam community – Jenny and Rob Schenk are forever grateful to the band for the experiences they have had.
“This band has given me and Rob so much in terms of the opportunity to love a band and the music and to make friends and create relationships with people,” Schenk said. “There really is truly no way to thank them. So for us, we always try to support the organizations that the band supports.”
One organization with which Schenk volunteers annually is EBRP (EB Research Partnership). While she first took notice of EB — a non-contagious group of threatening skin disorders that affect children from birth — when Pearl Jam first released the “Cause the Wave” initiative, Schenk’s involvement with EB became personal.
“I remember watching this video that Pearl Jam had posted. All of a sudden, after Eddie was on with all of these kids, there was a familiar face on the screen – Adam Silver – and my heart sank. Here was this man that I grew up with, who was most likely on that bus with me when I was listening to ‘Dissident’ over and over again. It turns out that my friend is a founder and Chairman of EBRP, and his son has the disease. And it really rocked me to my core. I reached out to my friend to see how I could help. So I began volunteering at the annual ‘ACTion for Jackson’ event, and I have been doing so every year since the organization’s founding in 2010.”
While EBRP is important to Schenk, she also volunteers to help families in need in her own community of Harrison, New York, through the Harrison Food Pantry Holiday Project.
According to Schenk, the food pantry hosts an annual holiday drive where donating families are paired with wishlist recipients who could not otherwise afford to purchase gifts for their families themselves.
“Last year we donated gifts to 383 people in our town. In addition to the gifts, families also receive gift cards to the local supermarkets,” Schenk explained.
Schenk’s volunteering doesn’t stop there. No matter the time of year or the situation, she is always looking for a way to give back to those in need. In fact, at the start of the pandemic, Schenk and some of the volunteers from the Harrison Food Pantry Holiday Project created “Masks for Harrison”.
“We created the initiative where people donated $20 and were able to purchase two masks for themselves and then give two masks to those in need in our community,” Schenk said.
Over 500 masks were donated to senior residents in Harrison, and another 500 were provided for adults and children who visited the Harrison Food Pantry.
Schenk finds inspiration to give back to the community from Pearl Jam and the Wishlist Foundation.
“There are a lot of bands everywhere who have giving initiatives, but it has always struck a chord with me about how Pearl Jam is so devoted to acts of kindness and giving back to the community and making an impact. The things they do are not on a small scale, like ‘The Home and Away Shows’ and raising all that money for homelessness. They have always spoken about their views, and I give them a lot of credit for standing up for what they believe in and being out there and being a part of it, and not just putting the money into something and backing it. They are actually out there being physically active in the community of Seattle and other communities. And I believe that the Wishlist Foundation really inspires the fans to do the same thing, which is remarkable. And that is why I am very humbled to be a part of the Wishlist Foundation (Jenny has recently joined the Wishlist Foundation team as a Beneficiary Coordinator).”
Thank you, Jenny, for sharing your Pearl Jam journey with us and for sharing the light with others during this time of darkness. You are an inspiration to many!
Pearl Jam community, please reach out to me with stories you would like to share, or nominate a Pearl Jam fan who is making a difference in the lives of others. Email Chrissie at email@example.com
Featured photo: Mike McCready and Jenny in 2012
Photo of Ed with tambourine: 2013 (Photos courtesy of Jenny Schenk)