Jenesha Robert is a graduating member of our Black & Latino Achievers program — a program which provides leadership, career readiness, and college preparation support to our middle school and high school youth.
Because of all of Jenesha’s hard work, she earned a full-ride scholarship to St. Lawrence University, and was honored as this year’s Achiever of the Year at our annual Black and Latino Achiever’s Banquet.
Most recently, Jenesha was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a nationally recognized honor that came with a signed letter from Barrack Obama.
This is not an easy award to earn. It took a lot of hard work and a little help from Vicki Feola, the Membership Director at the Schenectady location, as it was Vicki who suggested that Jenesha apply.
“I didn’t know the grandness of it,” said Jenesha. “I didn’t know that the end goal was a letter from Obama with Obama’s signature.”
The award was no small feat. Jenesha endured a rigorous application process including a short essay, long essay, and a log of all of her volunteer hours.
“I’m really grateful because President Obama and his wife are so inspiring to me. They showed me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still make it,” said Jenesha. “Getting this award, shows me that no matter what I do, as long as I work hard and study, if I’m dedicated, and I care about something, my hard work will pay off. I know that [the Obamas] didn’t do the work knowing they would be President or First Lady. I never did any of that to amount to this. My mom always said when you do good things, good things will follow you so this is just a testament to that.”
A lot of the experiences that Jenesha had can be traced back to her time spent at the YMCA, where she first started participating in Y programs her sophomore year.
“I joined by fate,” smiled Jenesha. “In my high school, it’s so hard to hear the announcements at the end of the day. I don’t even know how I heard the announcement. All it said was, ‘If you want to make a change in your community, come to the library for the Youth and Government Program’. So I decided to join. I liked the fact that I could help my community. Then it was history after that.”
From there, Jenesha met a ton of new friends and bonded with new mentors who encouraged her to try the Black and Latino Achievers, which she joined the following year.
“Last year, [The Achievers] took us to the FBI headquarters and that blew my mind.” Jenesha laughed. “Like, I could do this? I could work at the FBI? They opened my eyes to so many opportunities, careers, and job paths I didn’t know about it. That was so cool to me.”
Jenesha has worked extremely hard throughout her high school career to help improve her community. She volunteers at Proctor’s, participates in volunteer activities for both the YMCA Black and Latino Achievers and Youth and Government Programs, sings in her church choir, and is part of Girl’s Circle at her school.
One of Jenesha’s favorite volunteer groups is the Schenectady Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, a high school service project, where the group proposed a grant to do research based on the wants and needs of the students at Schenectady High School, with the hopes of using this information to strengthen the Y and other local youth centers.
“No one has ever asked me what I want in my community, so I’m really grateful for this experience,” said Jenesha. “It surprised me to see how many people said they don’t feel safe in their community. I asked 18-year-old boys, who said they don’t feel safe. That is so heartbreaking.”
Not only is Jenesha looking to make a change on a local level, but she is also hoping to make national change.
“In Youth and Government, our first bill was to try and make college campuses safer. We were trying to mandate a safety rating based on sexual assault at each college campus and that really hit home,” Jenesha explained. “At the time I was in 11th grade, looking at the statistics and realizing that college rape is a serious, serious subject. It’s overlooked. People get shunned for it. It opened my eyes a lot and if I could ever really put that bill into real law, I would do it without a doubt.”
That’s exactly what she plans to do. With her full scholarship to St. Lawrence, she is going to study Psychology with a minor in Arabic, with the goal of becoming a lawyer.
“I’m really inspired by Anzala [Alozie], who showed me that you can have so many different career paths with a law degree,” explained Jenesha.
Throughout her time at the Y, Jenesha has made some incredible connections with YMCA staff who have helped her through her journey.
“I used to feel bad for wanting to have more than one mentor. First of all, they don’t care. Second of all, take what you can get. You can learn different things from different people,” explained Jenesha. “Whenever they congratulate me for something I’ve done, I’m like, I couldn’t have made it here without you. They have given me these opportunities. Counseled me. Sat down with me. I couldn’t make it without them. They made me this way.”
Jenesha has worked her way into the heart of each and every one at the Y.
“I definitely want to stay close to the Y. I’m leaving, but I’m really not,” said Jenesha. “I’m so connected to this place that I could never truly leave.”