The Gleaner: KINGSTON, By Sanaa Douglas – Twenty-three-year-old Jamaican Jenine Shepherd is the recipient of the 2021 Diana Award. The award, which is in honour of Princess Diana of Wales, is the most prestigious honour a young person age nine-25 can receive for participating in humanitarian and social work.
Shepherd was at home with her mom when she got the e-mail that she had been selected for the award.
“I was very ecstatic, to be honest. I felt a sense of gratitude as well, because I mean, I have been volunteering for six years through my nonprofit and rallying a team together. So for me, it’s just the greatest form of appreciation that I could possibly feel to know that the work that I have been doing is being recognised and appreciated,” she told The Gleaner.
Shepherd is the founder and director of Youths for Excellence and president of the Jamaica America Youth Alliance (JAYA). At age 17, she founded the non-profit organisation which aims to provide help and provisions to inner-city youths who are sitting exams – from grade four to six.
Shepherd currently attends Amherst College, which is the top liberal arts college in the United States, where she is pursuing a double major in neuroscience and economics. She said it was not easy to balance her academics and her organisations at the same time, so she took a break from school to give her charity her undivided attention.
“I knew deep down that once I start something, I want to continue it and I wanted it to grow, so that’s why I took a pause from school, but I’m supposed to be going back in January to finish up my degree.”
A strong believer in God, Shepherd said her bible is what she uses as a coping mechanism. She said she got baptised in 2018 and after a near-death experience, her faith was strengthened and she got more serious about her organisation.
Shepherd said Youth for Excellence was supposed to just be a bunch of high school friends volunteering for the summer. They had decided to teach children, but then she had an idea of not just tutoring students but helping with food, comprehensive health checkups and school supplies.
She got into JAYA after her work with the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council. She said she was approached by Senator Pearnel Charles Jr after she had written to the Government, explaining that she wanted to do more for her country. She was recently appointed president of JAYA by its founders who had seen her work at the council.
“JAYA is a different mantle than what the council stood for in that the council focuses on Jamaicans who were overseas, and ties back that relationship with the Jamaican Government, but what JAYA did that was different from the global council, is that we actually focus on supporting them (the diasporas) in the countries that they were in,” Shepherd told The Gleaner.
Shepherd wants to be a neurosurgeon or to work in bio-engineering. She said she has always wanted to work in tech and health care, while continuing her charity and volunteer work.
She said her mother, who is her biggest supporter, has encouraged her to move forward and to never lose sight of her goals.
- Top Feature Photo: Jenine Shepherd