The Millennials: Coming back home to serve others.

March 21, 2015
Ellen Jensen

Ellen Jensen

Editor’s Note: Sustaining a community and keeping it vibrant requires diversity on many levels, especially among age groups. An unintended movement the last few years has been the increased number of millennials who have taken a role in community and business leadership in Mason County. A millennial, also known as Generation Y, is defined as a person who was born from the early ‘80s to the 2000s.. This generation grew up in the digital age and often offers a unique and fresh perspective to leadership.

This is the eighth story in our weekly series on the area’s millennials who are making an impact in our community.

Sponsored by All Access Care of Ludington. Located at 329 N. Jebavy Dr. in Ludington; 231-425-4544;

By Kate Krieger. Senior Correspondent.


LUDINGTON – Many people do not have the opportunity to move back to their hometown, and even if they do, a lot of them can’t say that their choice in careers had a lot to do with their upbringing in that hometown. Ludington resident, Ellen Jensen, 35, says if it weren’t for her growing up in Ludington, she might not have become the social worker that she is today.

A 1998 graduate from Ludington High School, Ellen went away to college with the idea of not returning to Ludington because it didn’t have anything to offer her.

“I graduated from Grand Valley in 2004,” she says. “During my senior year, I did an internship with the court system down there on the DART (Domestic Assault Response Team). It was from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. and the police would get calls about domestic violence and we went out to be with the victims and whatever they needed we got it for them. It was my first exposure to social work.”

Receiving her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Ellen then went on to work for Hope Network in Grand Rapids for a year, working as a residential instructor in a 20-bed, locked down facility.

“The people who lived there had anything from a developmental disability to mental illness to trauma victims,” she says. “They couldn’t live on their own or outside a locked facility really.”

Ellen assisted the clients in building skills, working through their mental illnesses and helping integrate them into the community, when appropriate. After a year with Hope Network, Ellen was still searching for what exactly it was that she felt was her calling.

“I decided I wasn’t satisfied in Grand Rapids and I wanted to do something else,” she said. “Without a job, I moved back to Ludington. I left this town (Ludington) saying I would never come back here.”

Finally coming to terms with the idea that maybe the reason she had left Ludington was to gain experience so she could return to build upon what she had already known all along; Ellen took a job with the Hadley Center at what is now Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, as a psych tech and then moved to Catholic Social Services to begin her journey of giving back to the community that gave her so much.

“I came to recognize what I had and what Ludington had and how it shaped me,” Ellen says. “It had given me the opportunity to leave and become successful so I could come back.”

While working at Catholic Social Services, Ellen decided that social work was really the direction she wanted to go, but she needed to take another step with school in order to apply for the jobs she really wanted. She returned to college to receive her master’s of social work degree. Attending Michigan State University’s online program, Ellen credits the school’s online accessibility for much of her success.

“I was in the distance education program,” she says. “I could still work full time. Without that program, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it because I needed to work.”

While completing her master’s degree, Ellen moved from Catholic Social Services to West Michigan Community Mental Health to work with the developmentally disabled population and then a job opened back up at Hadley, so she applied and was offered the position. Knowing she could complete her internship for her master’s while at Hadley, she worked under supervisor Karen Goodman and worked with home health care with Memorial Medical Center.

Finishing her master’s in 2010, working at Hadley as the social work supervisor, Ellen was finally doing what she had set out to do, but she just wasn’t completely satisfied.

Not ever really working with children and families before, Ellen was asked by Goodman, who had returned to Community Mental Health, to apply for the supervisor position with the home based services team in the family and children division.

Ellen says working with the families was really when she realized how fortunate she was to have the upbringing she had in Ludington because many families she worked with weren’t as fortunate.

“I became very aware of how fortunate my childhood was,” she says. “Working with these families, the times are different, but there’s still a lot care the community can access.”

Helping families has continued to build Ellen’s passion for social work and her drive to educate her community about how important having good mental health services is and that there is a lot of assistance right here in Mason County and the surrounding areas.

“I’m passionate about mental health,” Ellen says. “I want to help the community to have better mental health. I can help families have a good quality of life and enjoy life.”

Having a positive childhood experience in Ludington, Ellen wants to be able to show all her clients that it’s possible to have a great life even during some very rough times. She says her parents, Jim and Judy Jensen, played a huge roll in her positive attitude towards life and they also were great role models, showing her what hard work truly looks like and how to achieve success even if it may not seem possible at times.

“My dad grew up here and left and then came back,” Ellen says. “He has been in the farming business since he was a teenager. He worked very hard and now has a successful business himself.”

Along with Ellen, her sister, Marie, has also moved back to Ludington after living in Chicago for 10 years and also is a social worker at Community Mental Health. Ellen’s fiancé, Stephen Plummer, is a peer support specialist with CMH, so helping others definitely is a passion for the entire family.

“In the moment, you don’t really think about how lucky we were growing up here, but I think back and we had so much,” Ellen said. “There’s just something about this area. I missed the lake. Community is important to me. I’m proud to be from here and proud to be back here.”