Family Captures Daughter’s Legacy by Forging Relationships with Young People
Twenty-one years ago Janice Geddes faced the unthinkable. She lost her beloved daughter Jenna when she was murdered by a young man just released on parole. While the tragedy changed Geddes’ life in an irreversible way, it could not rob her of something fundamental to her spirit: her capacity for compassion and caregiving.
“To keep Jenna’s memory alive, I needed to create something positive,” explained Geddes.
This inspiration led Geddes to establish The Jenna Foundation for Non-Violence, a nonprofit through which she started a scholarship fund at the Community Foundation. The scholarship assisted students from Jenna’s high school who were pursuing degrees in the medical field as she had.
Over time, Geddes found that the criteria she’d designed for the scholarship limited the pool of students she could assist. That’s when she chose to partner with On Point for College.
On Point serves first generation and nontraditional college students, many of whom face extreme poverty and lack a foundation of support necessary to achieving higher education. Rather than providing a scholarship to students traveling life paths similar to Jenna’s, On Point helps connect Geddes with students living radically different lives – those whose backgrounds relate more closely to the young man that took Jenna’s life.
“These students have faced tremendous obstacles, but they’re motivated,” said Geddes. “I have all the privilege in the world so I try to share it the best I can.”
Her scholarship ultimately became a designated fund in support of On Point, which allows her to continue her vision and support an organization that helps expand her reach. Building a strong connection with the students is essential to Geddes. While the financial assistance that students receive has a big impact on their ability to remain in college, it is only one small fraction of the experience. Geddes and her husband devote an immense amount of their personal time towards mentoring the students as well. This can involve practical things such as how to open a checking account or hunt for an apartment; these are all ordinary details of life that, for those who are fortunate enough to have a support system, may be easily overlooked.
FaceTime calls, text message conversations, holiday plans, rides to the grocery store and nights out for dinner are just some of the ways Geddes establishes permanent relationships with the students who first come to her as strangers.
Geddes is able to devote this robust support to students because On Point distributes funding toward the education of one student at a time. For young adults who have had tumultuous upbringings and strained relationships with the education system, completing a degree in the conventional four year track may be challenging. Therefore, recipients receive support throughout their time in college no matter how long it takes for them to earn their degree. It’s not until the recipient graduates that another is chosen. While Geddes continuously works with The Community Foundation to grow her fund, she stresses that making a difference in a vulnerable life doesn’t have to come at an expense.
“It doesn’t cost a thing to be kind and show somebody you care about them.”
Creating lifelong connections may not have been the goal from the onset, but Geddes is hardly surprised by the way the fund has evolved, knowing that she has never been able to walk away from those who need her. However, what she didn’t anticipate was just how much the program would impact her and her husband.
“We never anticipated just how rewarding this would be. Our students have shown us the invaluable importance of human connection,” explained Geddes.
Each act of compassion and support that Geddes extends to others in the community is a reflection of the love she carries for her daughter. Through every relationship built and every student that walks across the stage at graduation against all odds, Jenna’s legacy of kindness and intelligence is sustained.
To contribute to the Jenna Christine Grieshaber Scholarship Fund, visit cnycf.org/grieshaber