This month for our new STARS Spotlight feature, we spoke with Jahnee’ Hughes, one of our former mentors. Jahnee’ was a mentor and Youth Staff at our STARS National Conference from 2011-14.
She’s home for the summer after graduating from Howard University in D.C. this spring, on her way to begin law school at Loyola University in Chicago this fall. She been what you might call an “All-Star STARS alumni” over the last few years since her time as a mentor with FRIENDS FIRST. Jahnee’ is a Daniels Fund Scholar, and she interned for Sen. Bennet during her time at Howard.
We had a great time catching up with Jahnee’. She explained how closely her experience with FRIENDS FIRST affected her path after high school, and how she still lives her life as a mentor. It all started after a trip to Washington D.C. with FRIENDS FIRST.
How did you get involved with FRIENDS FIRST?
Jahnee’: I got involved with FRIENDS FIRST when I was in the 7th grade. It was through a family friend so it started with the Cherry Creek STARS, and from there we branched out into the Denver STARS. I was a participant for three years at SNC before I joined the youth staff at the conference during high school. My involvement started by going to the conference when I was in 7th grade. I remember meeting Elycia (FRIENDS FIRST president & CEO) because at the time when I started there weren’t a lot of kids from Denver Public Schools, so we were grouped with the Cherry Creek STARS. At the time she was the coordinator, so my relationship with her kept me involved with the organization.
What was high school like for you, were you always thinking about going to college?
Jahnee’: I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know where or what I wanted to do. It was actually because of the Day on the Hill when we went to D.C., and Elycia took us to Howard. That was actually when I first found out about Howard. I had already been to Fort Collins to the CSU campus, so I had seen that campus because that’s where the conference (SNC) was at the time. When we went to Howard, that’s when I knew that’s where I wanted to go. If it wasn’t for that trip I might not have gone to Howard.
In college I interned for Sen. Bennett, and I met him during Day on the Hill with FRIENDS FIRST. I was a Daniels Fund scholar, and in a lot of my essays when applying I wrote about STARS and FRIENDS FIRST and how they helped me grow during high school. Eventually I got the Sen. Bennet internship from another Daniels Fund scholar. So those three things were all connected. I also interned for a small IT startup, and interned for the administrative office of the U.S. Courts, which is part of the judicial branch. We focused on diversity inclusion in the judicial system.
It sounds like SNC had quite the impact on you, what else did you take away from the conference?
Jahnee’: I never really went to a lot of camps, and I wasn’t really in clubs or anything. I had friends just at school. So when I went to SNC the first time, I met a lot of people outside of my school. It was also a lot of people who had the same beliefs and perspective on the world that I wanted to have. Like leading a healthier lifestyle, staying away from high-risk behaviors. All things I wanted to really understand but the time I was so young I really didn’t know. It was kind of nice having that fresh perspective and meeting those new people. I think my experience with the conference introduced me to that new path.
You told us that you met a ‘different group’ of kids at SNC, what was different about that group?
Jahnee’: At the time, when I was younger, I was around a lot of people who had a lot of negative influence in their life. When I went to SNC it seemed a little more positive. More people were optimistic there than people I’d been familiar with before that. So at SNC they had goals, they had an idea of what they wanted to achieve and they were willing to seek help in order to achieve that goal. Everyone seemed to want to figure out how they were going to get it. I like that they were resilient in that way and very open. Because I think that a lot of people really bottle their emotions, STARS really forces you to bring those out. It was nice hearing other people’s perspectives and their experiences because they were very similar to what mine were and what my siblings were. It was very open and refreshing.
Do you feel like that gave you skills to help others?
Jahnee’: I actually brought a lot of the skills I learned being an SNC staff member into a lot of my leadership positions in high school. For example, the family groups, when I was doing high school sports, I remember with family groups you focus on something different every day. With my cheerleading team I really focused on building that family aspect. I got a lot of those skills from the family groups. When I was surrounded by a lot of people in the party scene in college, it helped me remember what my principles were so that I would graduate on time, that I wouldn’t fail a class or whatever it is. Just remembering and having that self-control, which is something I learned from STARS, really helped me stay on track.
Would you still consider yourself a mentor?
Jahnee’: Yes. Especially to my younger sisters, they were both in STARS too. When I got to college I did have a group of mentees. In the business school, you have to opt-in but you can become a team leader your sophomore year. So I worked with 11 other freshmen, and I actually did a lot of the same things again from the family groups with them. I still have a relationship with all of those students as well. I think makes me feel like I have a purpose in a weird way. I know that they rely on me and they value my opinion. They text me and if I don’t have the information I get the information from someone else or somewhere else. It’s nice knowing that they really value what I have to say.
What would you tell students in high school considering STARS who don’t know anything about it?
Jahnee’: I would tell them to try it even if they don’t know what it is. When you stumble upon something and do something spontaneous or out of the box at that age, it can be literally the best experience you can have. The biggest thing I learned from STARS, which was how to be a mentor, but also where to find a mentor. I did get a lot of mentors from the program. It’s the biggest thing. I means a lot to someone. It really gives you the guidance that you don’t know you need until you have one. I think STARS forces people not to be in a clique. You are meeting so many different people, and then when you bring that outside of STARS you continue to treat everyone the same way even if they are very different.