High school can be one of the hardest times for anyone. I’m not talking strictly about the course work, which can get pretty difficult, but rather finding a place where you feel that you fit in. It’s like you’ve been exposed to this giant ocean and you have to do the best that you can do to not let the waves navigate you—you have to navigate yourself in the direction that you want to head and not let negative forces pull you.
Personally, I had a pretty rough time navigating myself through this giant ocean. Looking back at high school there are so many things I wish I had been able to handle differently. I was barely able to stand up for myself (which I could), and whenever I’d see others who needed help I always wished that I could lend a hand, but sometimes it was hard enough keeping myself above water. A few years ago I met a very special girl. She was 14 years old and wasn’t one of the most talkative people in the word. I’ve kept in contact with her through my community and the web, and I have been blown away by everything this change maker has been able to accomplish. She has left a mark on my heart forever and is one of my biggest role models.
Jenna Silverstein, MSU 2016, not only made the waves change to better her high school experience, but she went above and beyond in making changes in the lives of people who weren’t able to do it for themselves. It started in 8th grade—her “friends” would talk about her behind her back and even cornered her at lunch one day making her believe she was a terrible person. “I honestly thought they were right,” Jenna says, “then that thought changed my life. I didn’t want to think that anymore.” So she went out and did one of the best things that she had ever done; she joined an organization called Friendship Circle.
Friendship Circle is an organization that connects volunteers with kids who have mental disabilities. The organization provides a safe haven for these kids and is filled with volunteers, like Jenna, who go above and beyond to give these kids the world. She wasn’t too hooked freshman year, but once sophomore hit no one could have stopped this girl’s momentum. Jenna not only gained confidence in herself, but she made an impression and lasting mark on two very lucky boys. Through Friendship Circle she met Nick and was able to spend 3 years working closely with him. When she first met him he was 21 and went from hating reading to now running to the library to pick out a chapter book to read. She also worked with Evan, who she met when he was three, and has been paired with him as a buddy with for almost four years now. Since she was one of the first volunteers to work with him, she was able to see him go from learning how to communicate to wondering if he will ever stop talking. She has made such strong changes in their lives and claims that she will continue her friendships with the two of them for eternity.
But what amazes me most is that she did this during the most difficult years of high school and managed to accomplish not only maintaining a 3.67 grade point average, but some other feats as well. Friendship Circle created a Defeat the Label campaign to help stop judgmental bullying in schools. She brought the program back to her school because she didn’t want anyone to have to experience bullying in any form. Furthermore, she started a chapter of the organization at her high school and brought in over 50 members during the first year! We could go on for days on all of the awards that she has won, but I’ll leave you with what I still can’t wrap my head around. Barack Obama himself awarded her with the Prudential Scholarship Community Award!
“For every experience I've had, I've always learned something about myself,” Jenna says. Well, Jenna, I just want to know that this world is changing for the better and it’s because we have people like you!
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