The Columns

My W&L: Jinae Kennedy ’16

— by on September 5th, 2016

Jinae Kennedy '16

“One word can sum up my feelings about the last three years: Grateful.”

My involvement as a Bonner Scholar–a service learning and leadership development program within the Shepherd Poverty Department–has been the most defining feature of my W&L experience. Over four years, Bonner scholars commit to 1800 service hours, applying their education in partnership with community agencies to create lasting change.

Freshman year, I worked with an afterschool program to design and launch a College Prep Week and a Health-Hunger-Service Week at the middle school. Upperclassmen student leaders mentored me through these projects, offering guidance and encouraging me to take ownership.

Designing the programs was a collaborative effort, and I facilitated communication between middle school students, W&L and VMI volunteers, school staff, and over 30 local employers. I learned to lead meetings and to call decisions.

That experience at the beginning of my W&L career was so valuable. I realized that I love using communication skills to build happy and successful teams to design powerful projects.

But more important was the opportunity to meet so many extraordinary people in my community. Rockbridge County is an incredible place that has become my home. I never enter the grocery store without seeing familiar faces and stopping to chat with a friend I met at a service site, church, the farmer’s market, or the coffee shop.

For the last two years, I have served as the volunteer coordinator intern at the local high school, managing three separate afterschool programs and facilitating communication between school administration and volunteers. Our programs provide free one-on-one SAT/ACT prep, college application coaching, and group tutoring, fostering lasting relationships between students and volunteers.

The issues of education inequality and college access are close to my heart. I came to W&L through Questbridge, a program that links high achieving, low-income students with scholarships to top schools. I found Questbridge at what I felt was the last minute. Applying to college was stressful and confusing, and I had no idea what my options were. Looking back, I wished I had someone to guide me through the process and give me the confidence to shoot high. If I can be that person now for one student–enough said. Every stressful staff meeting, every late night, every long day of tutoring is infinitely worth it.

Directly applying my mass communications major, I also manage communications and social media at Hoofbeats Therapeutic Riding Center (along with assisting riding lessons, mucking stalls, training horses, and planning events).

Last semester I took an Intro to Reporting class. I learned about social media trends, interviewing, and the power of communication. Every week, I directly applied my classwork to my service work. Within that semester, Hoofbeats’ web traffic doubled. My goal is to connect Hoofbeats with the non-profit network and to create a coherent brand image, opening opportunities for more public funding.

Writing weekly features for the blog, I get to interview incredible riders and volunteers and tell their stories. There is power and healing in story telling–listening to somebody for hours, asking questions, finding a common thread, and then carrying their voice to a wider audience. Deep down, everybody wants his or her story to be told.

I have found so many valuable experiences at W&L, from gaining professional experience to meeting famous people to attending national conferences. The unique leadership programs and personal connections with professors, faculty, and the community have helped me link my passions and my education. One word can sum up my feelings about the last three years: Grateful.