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Thomas Jefferson Student Represents United Way of Southeast Louisiana at National Education Conference

IMG_5044Thomas Jefferson High School teacher and Student Government Association sponsor Kim G. Minor remembers first meeting Jenny Ly as a freshman.

“She was a go-getter,” said Minor. “Took responsibility for everything and wanted to be in charge. Not in a bossy way, but in a good way.”

Now a senior and SGA president at Thomas Jefferson High, that young go-getter represented her school, the Jefferson Parish Public School System (JPPSS), and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana at a national education conference in Washington, D.C. on October 5.

“Thinking Globally and Acting Locally” was held at the US Department of Education. Students learned about global education challenges and developed solutions that could also be used on the local level. Participants spoke with members of the Peace Core and youth leaders from countries like Macedonia, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. Ly said the most impactful session focused on the struggles in Ghana.

IMG_5058“I know that education is the key to a lot of things. You can’t succeed without a good education,” said Ly. “They are stuck in this intergenerational cycle of poverty and they don’t have access to a good education to get out of this cycle.”

Ly’s jam-packed day in our nation’s capital opened her eyes to a career in international affairs. Tackling global issues would be a natural extension of how this JPPSS product already serves her school, her community, and her peers.

A former student at Woodland West Elementary, Gretna No. 2 Academy, and Ruppel Academy, Ly said her turning point towards a life of service came sophomore year when she volunteered to feed the homeless at the New Orleans Mission.

“I just saw how fortunate I was and all these opportunities I have just because I’m born into the right circumstances,” said Ly. “And some of these people are not as fortunate, so I just feel like whatever I can do I should do.”

IMG_5076Thomas Jefferson High is one of six JPPSS schools that participate in the United Way Mission Ignition competition. Students in this service competition have contributed 8,000 service hours to the region (the equivalent of $100,000 in economic impact). Ly joined the Mission Ignition board as a junior and was selected as a United Way intern. During her trip to D.C., Mission Ignition even used the Twitter hashtag #followjenny to keep everyone updated on her experiences.

“I think it’s fitting, too, considering the leadership role that Jenny has taken in her school and in her community,” United Way of Southeast Louisiana Student-Community Partnerships Director Melody Reed wrote recently on the organization’s website. “Though she was born when I was in high school, I find myself learning from her on a regular basis. She always looks for ways to make things better, never satisfied with the status quo. She is the first to raise her hand to help if there is a need.”

Thomas Jefferson High’s new principal  Andrew Vincent wasn’t in his office two days before Ly reached out to him through email. Vincent said they had around 5 or 6 discussions prior to the school year about plans she had for 2015-2016. One of those was “Can We Talk,” an event to raise awareness about teen suicide and depression. Aside from basic logistics, Vincent said a student must have a mature viewpoint and a mature plan of action to move forward with such a serious topic. He was impressed and reassured that he had the right person.

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Jenny Ly came up with the idea to pass out wristbands with the text line during Thomas Jefferson’s “Can We Talk” event. Now other schools are interested in hosting similar presentations.

“It became very apparent, very quickly that Jenny Ly did,” said Vincent. “She was mature beyond her years. This was something that came from a very genuine nature.”

As Thomas Jefferson’s SGA sponsor, Minor has worked closely with Ly since her freshman year. He also sees her genuine nature.

“With Jenny, I know it’s about helping people,” said Minor. “Jenny’s not concerned with how much money she’s going to make when she’s an adult. Jenny wants to help people, and that’s the way she’s always been.”

Thomas Jefferson senior Zachary Floid smiled when mentioning the SGA elections he finished second in to Ly. He considers her one of his best friends. Floid could tell she was a leader from early on, and says her classmates support what she does as well.

“She definitely sacrifices a lot,” said Floid. “And she’s fully committed to the school and Mission Ignition and the United Way.”

Ly, who is at the semifinalist stage as a Possee Scholar and has applied to Tulane and Loyola, says volunteering and organizing these events is hard work. But she wants her peers to know that making a difference is well worth the effort.

“In the end it pays off, because all this stuff that you can accomplish for your school and for your community,” said Ly. “I know for me, this is a far away thought, but you always want to think of the future and you want to make this a better place.”