Education

From volunteer to Naval reservist and federal judge, East St. Louis teen wants to help others

East St Louis teen wants to help others

East St. Louis Senior High graduate Jha'Shaira Farmer, 17, wants to make a career out of helping others since middle school.
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East St. Louis Senior High graduate Jha'Shaira Farmer, 17, wants to make a career out of helping others since middle school.

A recent high school graduate who was honored by the state this year for her volunteerism says she’s known she wanted to make a career out of helping others since middle school.

Jha’Shaira Farmer, 17, was a Governor’s Volunteer Service Award winner. The East St. Louis Senior High School graduate was nominated because of her work with East Side Aligned, which promotes health and safety and prepares East St. Louis children for school and work.

She said she remembers how it felt to start volunteering through Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church’s after-school program. She was helping students in kindergarten through seventh-grade with their schoolwork.

“Just seeing the little kids not knowing what two plus two is, and you’re just walking them through the steps, and then a few days later, they come and they already know how to do it because you showed them the initial steps of how to do something — it’s actually a great feeling,” Jha’Shaira said.

She decided that she’d like to continue helping people as a federal judge.

Soon, she’ll start working toward that goal by studying pre-law and accounting at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. But first she’ll have to finish basic training.

I chose law because I already like to work with people and to help people, and being able to do that for a living would be pretty cool.

Jha’Shaira Farmer, East St. Louis Senior High School graduate

Jha’Shaira joined the U.S. Navy Reserves — something she decided she wanted to do much later than middle school.

“I wasn’t even thinking about military, like, at all in high school,” Jha’Shaira said. “I did not do JROTC.”

After some urging from her family, Jha’Shaira said she talked to a recruiter and immediately connected with the Navy’s core values: honor, courage and commitment.

She departed for basic training the week of Independence Day. Jha’Shaira said she heard from the recruiter and from family members with experience in the military about what to expect. She says she learned that everyone’s experience their first day at basic is a little bit different — “just like high school.”

Q: You were really involved in your school. You were in different clubs. You served on the student advisory board. You were in the top 2 percent of your graduating class. What did you like about school?

A: “I would say the culture, as far as how the teachers treated me. ... It was always welcoming when I walked in. It was like a home away from home in a sense.”

Q: On top of everything that you did at school, you also did a lot of volunteering — so much so that you won an award for it. How did that feel to win the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award?

A: “Honestly, at first I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. ... I didn’t even know I got nominated, so that was another surprise to get that email. I was like, ‘What? Oh my goodness.’ ... Going to the ceremony itself was actually really, really cool. I met other students, people who also won the award. It was just a great experience.”

Q: Why do you like to volunteer?

A: “Well, it started when I was younger, actually, at Mt. Sinai (Missionary Baptist Church) — right down the street. ... Just being able to see other people happy if they don’t have something or just being able to help other people, really, is actually really cool to me — whether that’s doing a coat drive or even just going out to evangelize and tell people about Christ.”

Q: How long have you known you wanted to become a federal judge?

A: “I actually had this mapped out my eighth- or ninth-grade year.”

Q: Where did that idea come from?

A: “When I was in middle school, I just looking around like, ‘What do I want to do?’ Because, you know, when you’re in middle school, they always ask you, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ That’s always the biggest question. Even when you aren’t an adult, it’s still, ‘What do you wanna do?’ So I just started looking at different areas of what I actually liked to do. ... And I looked at what I already do outside of school. ... I chose law because I already like to work with people and to help people, and being able to do that for a living would be pretty cool.”

Q: You’re also joining the U.S. Navy reserves. Why did you chose that branch?

A: “My granny was trying to get me to go to the Air Force because my great aunt went, and she was just telling me all the opportunities. I was like, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But then I actually talked to the Navy recruiter, and he gave me a lot of different information I didn’t know. When you think of Navy, you think of water, water, water. I’m like, ‘Well, I can’t swim.’

“He was just talking to me about what their morals and values are. ... It really just worked in with my personality because I like physical fitness, but I don’t like doing it all the time, so the Army was a ‘no,’ Marines was a definite ‘no.’ Air Force, they’re really cool, but they don’t do enough physical stuff. But Navy — they’re just right. Not to mention the amount of traveling they do, the amount of opportunities they present. It just fit me.”

Q: What were some of those morals that you connected with when you went to see that recruiter?

A: “The first thing he told me was, ‘Honor, courage and commitment.’ They’re their biggest values. It worked with me perfectly because ... I’m committed to most of the things that I do. The only reason I stopped playing sports was to be more dedicated to the clubs and societies that I was in because I didn’t want to do sports in college.”

Q: What are you hoping to get out of this experience in the military?

A: “I’m hoping to gain a lot of professional skills toward the workforce, just being able to boost my leadership skills ... working with people I’ve never even met before.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Meet Jha’Shaira Farmer

  • Age: 17
  • Guardian: Great-grandmother Ianthia Farmer
  • Siblings: Denarius Williams, 25, and Mikalah Farmer, 16
  • School: East St. Louis Senior High 2017 graduate
  • Favorite subject: History
  • Least favorite subject: Science
  • College: University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
  • Major: Pre-law and accounting
  • Future plans: Become a federal judge and Naval reservist
  • Hobbies: Volunteering through Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church
  • Achievements: 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award winner; graduated in top 2 percent of her high school class with 4.3 GPA; senior class president; student council president; East St. Louis Senior High Beta Club vice president; District 189 student advisory board member; National Honor Society member; and math honor society member
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