Jenna Stafford: Expressing Love and Acceptance

2012 Woman of Promise

There have been two constants in 17-year-old Jenna Stafford’s young life: her family’s love, and her love of animals.

First came Kareem, a rescue puppy. She saved up her allowance and dove for coins under couch cushions until she had enough for the Humane Society’s $50 adoption fee. She was 8.

“I don’t think my parents thought I could do it. It took me a long time, but I was determined,” she recalls. “He was my first love.”

The eight years they had together and their visits to Kareem’s vet sealed her decision to become a veterinarian, as did interacting with the animals where she took horseback riding lessons: emus, chickens, goats.

Jenna is the 2012 Women of Promise awardee. She is an Eastside High School junior dual enrolled at Santa Fe College and majoring in biology in pursuit of an eventual veterinary medicine degree. In addition to her enjoyment of science and animals, Jenna has an abiding interest in creating peace and understanding between different peoples, bringing people together, and collaborating on large volunteer projects.

Says HSDE Professor Mike Allard, who nominated Jenna: “Jenna impressed me initially as one of the very brightest students I’ve had. She works hard, she works steady, and she’s very giving and open. We do a lot of group work in class, and she’s always working with people closely. She thinks about things deeply and takes her time.”

Jenna already possesses awesome leadership skills learned from her mother, Harriet Stafford, who works at Santa Fe College in the Student Affairs Office.

“My mom is extremely active in the community, and I look up to her,” Jenna says. “She works so hard! I see how happy she is when her ideas come to life and her events are successful. She’s a great example for me.”

Jenna and her mom have prepared the evening meal at St. Francis House, once a month, since Jenna was 7 — nine year of consistently cooking and serving together! They prepare and pre-cook the food on the second Monday of each month after school, and then they finish cooking and serving the next day. In recent years, they have helped prepare meals with a team from the Gainesville Bahá’í Center.

Jenna enrolled in the National Achievers Society in first grade (her mom assists the group with John Cowart), and now serves as vice president. It champions academics, cultural awareness and community service. With the National Achievers, Jenna learned to lead group projects such as The Homeless Initiative, which collects clothing and supplies to distribute to homeless citizens.

Cowart has known Jenna since her early childhood. “I realty admire her love of volunteering and helping people,” Cowart says. “She is currently a member of the Achievers math team and will go to the state tournament in March to compete for scholarships. Anything you ask of her, she will do it. She’s always a ‘yes.’ You can tell it’s been instilled in her to give of herself and her talents.”

Jenna enjoys debating, thanks to her dad, General Magistrate and University of Florida Professor Samuel Stafford. Among other things, he’s taught her to back up her arguments with facts and to think critically.

“I feel like both my parents have so much to give, I want to contribute,” Jenna says. “I’m lucky to have both my parents and to have them both active in my life. I’m very thankful. As I grow older, I make sure not to take them for granted.”

Jenna is the youngest of four siblings; they are all very close. Roxann and Justin are National Achiever alumni. Her oldest brother, Jason, is autistic.

“He has inspired me to reach out to people for a better understanding of all different types of people,” she says.

Her family’s Bahá’í faith focuses on “the oneness of humanity” and service to others, further supporting the values she learned at home. At the Bahá’í Center, she organizes children’s activities and uses art as a means to create positive relationships and teach “virtues,” while also having fun.

“It helps me to be more open to new people and to meet all different types of people,” she explains.

For the past two summers, she’s volunteered full-time as a teacher’s assistant at Duval Elementary School with second, third and fifth graders. She was named Duval’s 2012 Outstanding Youth Volunteer. She loves seeing the progress kids make with the benefit of one-on-one attention.

“I like to show them a successful role model. It’s the coolest thing ever, that they would want to be that person,” she says.

The Duval teacher she works with, Alex Martinez, says Jenna is awesome with the children and always exceeds expectations. “She’s very good at teaching reading and she established an excellent rapport with the kids,” he says. “She is a very great help.”

At Eastside High School, she’s been an active member of UNICEF, Spanish Club, Children Beyond Our Borders, Student Government and Key Club, and helped organize the sophomore banquet for the International Baccalaureate program.

Vivian Graham, Jenna’s HSDE counselor, says she wishes she had many more students like Jenna.

“The sky is the limit in terms of her future,” Graham said. “She’s very personable, very charismatic, and she has the dedication and diligence to accomplish anything she wants.”

For fun, Jenna enjoys the theater and acting, and she loves to write, sing, hang out with her friends, bake, and share her cakes and muffins with others.

“I try to live life with a laugh and find little things to make me happy, to find joy,” she says. “Love yourself and love everyone else. Life is too short to hold onto small problems. Let it go and move on.”

Jenna writes: “Develop the vision; outline the tasks; respect one another’s talents and build the partnership. For me it represents what is the best in 21st Century leadership and citizenship — utilizing productive ways to be of service to one another and the community. It is the viable interdependence we all seek-using our talents to support one another’s wellbeing. No matter the challenge, issue or condition I believe we can all arise to make a difference for the betterment of our community, and as a result, the world.”

Read Jenna’s entire mission statement – PDF

Event and Ticket Information

For more information about Santa Fe College’s Women of Distinction Program, please click here or visit www.sfcollege.edu/wod.

This year, the WOD celebration will be held at Santa Fe’s Northwest campus, 3000 NW 83rd St., in the beautiful new Fine Arts Hall. The event features a program and a finely catered reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine, and is scheduled for 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday, March 15.

Tickets are $35 for adults, $20 for students, and $10 for children 12 and under, and may be purchased online or by calling 352-395-4181.

For more information, please contact Event Coordinator Cheryl Farrell at 352-395-5181.

CONTACT:

  • Julie Garrett, media relations, for general information about the Women of Distinction recognition program and for the honorees’ contact information, high res images, etc. – 352-395-5430 (office) or 352-870-2924 (cell) or email julie.garrett@sfcollege.edu
  • Cheryl Farrell, for information about the WOD event, 352-395-5181 or cheryl.farrell@sfcollege.edu