Asbury Park, November 10, 2021 – McDonough High School student Jayda Hendrickson dedicated her summer vacation to making the world a better place. Hendrickson, at the time a rising senior, joined ten other exceptional, socially conscious high school students representing Southern California and Central New Jersey to spend twelve weeks researching poverty and developing skills as agents of change.
Hendrickson and her peers spent a twelve-week fellowship as research associates with the Teen Think Tank Project’s Summer Research Cohort: Financial Stability investigating the struggles and hardships that low-income American families face to understand how education inequalities, underemployment, inconsistent health benefits, and institutional prejudices prevent individuals from escaping poverty’s grip. As a research associate Hendrickson was able to delve into the topic of financial instability and understand how it impacts different groups of people. “This topic was so enlightening to learn about because it felt like I could finally understand the barriers that prevent individuals from achieving long-term stability and independence,” says Hendrickson. “After discussing specific barriers (societal, legal, and economic) with my fellow cohort members, we were pushed to create content and applications to educate the public about what we can do to better help this vulnerable population.”
The research associates concluded that addressing the housing insecurities that many impoverished households face is an ideal first step in helping people out of poverty. Hendrickson co-authored and published a twenty-seven page research paper outlining the cohort’s findings and offering comprehensive steps that can be taken to overcome the economic, political and social barriers that make it difficult to break the cycle of poverty in America.
In addition to learning more about poverty and homelessness in America, Hendrickson and her colleagues honed their professional and academic skills to be more effective agents of change. Through exercises and interactions with experts and professionals, cohort members strengthened their communication, research, leadership, and decision making skills, which bolstered their confidence to use their voices and create change. “By being a part of this program and interacting with 11 other brilliant teens, I have gained so much inspiration,” said Hendrickson. “They made me feel like my voice always mattered and encouraged me to talk about topics I was unsure about. From this experience, I no longer have to second-guess myself, and I feel more confident to share my ideas and talk amongst my peers.”
In recognition of her work throughout the summer session, Hendrickson was awarded the cohort’s college scholarship. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” said Hendrickson. “I gained so much information and confidence from being surrounded by my fellow research associates. This has been one of the most legendary summers of my life.” The Teen Think Tank Project awards a $500 college scholarship to one research associate from each cohort who demonstrates an exceptional commitment to creating change in their community.
“When you run a social justice education program for exceptional high school students, every cohort member is worthy of praise and recognition; however, there are those research associates who stand out and make others take notice. Jayda is one of those individuals,” says Teen Think Tank Project co-founder and the Summer Research Cohort’s Coordinator, Matthew DeSantis. “Jayda is a true leader and absolutely deserving of this scholarship. She will undoubtedly achieve great things on her path of personal and professional development, and we are happy to call her a colleague!”
The Teen Think Tank Project’s college scholarship program is generously funded by Perennis Financial Planning, LLC.
In addition to Hendrickson’s work with the Teen Think Think Project she serves as her class president and the executive coordinator of Academic Decathlon at McDonough High School. Hendrickson is also the president of SkillsUSA, an organization empowering its members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible American citizens. Her volunteer activities include serving on Political Action Committees and Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. “My interest in advocacy started during the 2020 Presidential Election,” says Hendrickson. “From there, I became infatuated with politics and a career that involved social change and activism.” Hendrickson hopes to attend an HBCU and pursue a career in law where she can directly advocate for disadvantaged groups.
Teen Think Tank Project is a student-run policy institute that fosters critical thinking, research techniques, and problem-solving skills to develop policy frameworks for real-life issues and empowers students to become future changemakers. Teens find their voice and create change at www.teenthinktankproject.com or @teen_thinktank.
Kelly Nagle, Co-founder and Vice Chair