Jessica Plourde had no specific school in mind when she began to apply to colleges. She came to UNH for its Nutrition Program and the opportunities that such a large university had to offer. Little did she know, that though her path at UNH would still revolve around nutrition, it would do so in ways she could have
Jessica initially struggled to find the major that suited her passions. She switched from Nutrition to Family Studies, but still felt unsatisfied. Through the advice of a fellow student, she considered another switch, this time to Social Work. Jessica walked into Pettee Hall one day in the spring of her sophomore year to explore this new idea. She found Martha Byham, a professor in the Social Work department. She was inspired by what she had to say. “Martha was very easy to talk to,” Jessica says, “she didn’t know me at all but was just so excited to share with me about what she does. Her satisfaction was so apparent!”
Soon after that conversation, Jessica changed her major to Social Work and finally felt she had found the perfect fit. She comments on one of the books she read for one of her first social work classes, Growing up Empty, as “an amazing book that truly motivated me and opened my eyes to the extreme problem of hunger here in the United States. My ignorance to such an astronomical issue astounded me.”
A service learning course during Jessica’s junior year required her to do 20 hours of community service. She read about the food pantry on campus and eventually met with Larry Brickner-Wood, the Director of the Waysmeet Center. The food pantry needed someone extremely organized to run it effectively - Jessica was the perfect candidate. Organization is one of Jessica’s greatest strengths and something that she strongly values. As expected, Jessica excelled in her position at the Waysmeet Center. She scheduled all of the volunteers on a weekly basis, communicated with them, and even filled in for any that didn’t show up – which happened quite often. Some of her greatest successes in that position were the coin drive that she organized in her residence hall which raised $200 for the pantry, and starting a grocery list program for pantry customers to request specific foods they wanted.
Through her involvement with the Waysmeet Center, Jessica participated in CityReach, an overnight outreach program in Boston. While there, the volunteers delivered hundreds of bags of food and clothing to the homeless and made sandwiches to distribute to them as well. “It was so amazing to see,” says Jessica. “There were just so many people! Everyone was so appreciative and so grateful. I wish we could’ve given them so much more!”
Jessica became increasingly passionate about advocacy because of her classes and her experiences at the Waysmeet Center. She began to feel strongly about using her voice to stand up for such individuals. Eventually, this led her to a study-away internship during the spring of her junior year. The program, the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, brought her to Washington, DC, where she enrolled in a class through the Center and also worked full-time for an organization of her choice.
Jessica worked with the Children’s Rights Council, a lobbyist organization in Maryland. The position was an excellent fit. She was able to combine her intelligence and organizational skills with her passion for defending the rights of groups who are unable to defend hemselves. Jessica feels that this internship was invaluable to her self-exploration as well as her career exploration. She says the experience helped her know how to conduct herself in unfamiliar situations. It introduced her to future professional networks, and it gave her the confidence to know that she can be successful living and working independently in a new environment.
While she was living in Washington, Jessica volunteered with an inner-city food pantry, the DC Central Food Kitchen. This kitchen employs students from the Culinary Job Training program, once homeless and hungry individuals themselves, to prepare the food for the homeless people coming in to eat it. Jessica explained it as “homeless people providing for homeless people!” It is clear from listening to Jessica talk about her experience with the Washington Program that as much as she gave to others during the experience, she gained more.