Where Are They Now: Nashville scholarship recipient’s life changed after flood

This post was submitted by Jackson Oglesby. Jackson is a recipient of Simon Youth Foundation’s “Back in a Big Way Scholarship,” which commemorated the re-opening of our Simon Youth Academies in Nashville, Tenn., after the devastating 2010 floods.

My first memories of my education were being pulled away from the other students at my preschool, and being placed on small yellow bus to go to special classes at another school. While at the time I had no idea why I was being separated from the others, I would later learn that I had many developmental delays that would impair my physical and processing abilities, and would ultimately affect my ability to function in a classroom setting.

None of my teachers had high hopes for me, and so I did not try very hard. I had trouble grasping the most basic academic concepts, but I saw my friends excelling and taking honors classes, and wished I could do the same.

In 2010, Nashville experienced flooding that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and cost many people their lives. The city was underwater for weeks. I was given a week off of school while the city tried to recover. Like many students, I saw this as an opportunity to catch up on sleep and generally goof off. It was my mom who pushed me to go out and volunteer with the flood relief effort.

Are you a SYF graduate or scholarship recipient? Tell us your story.

Are you a SYF graduate or scholarship recipient? Tell us your story.

Reluctantly, I went out with my fellow East Nashville community members to canvas the neighborhood and help those who had been affected by the flood. I felt a real sense of accomplishment working side by side with adults, which boosted my self esteem and helped me realize that I could do anything if I set my mind to it.

It was around this time I got a different perspective on school. I worked really hard, tried different ways to learn, and found a few teachers who believed in me and encouraged me. Eventually things started falling into place. In the scope of a few months I went from being a below-average student with little prospects, to getting better grades and then quickly rising to become one of the top students at my school. By junior year I was taking all honors and AP classes, making A’s on my assignments, and pushing myself to succeed academically and outside of school. As I began to realize my true potential, I also started realizing I could make change in my community.

After watching my neighbors come together during the flood, I realized what a powerful difference volunteer work could do in a community. This motivated me to take on numerous volunteer projects in an effort to help my community.

While volunteering with a few organizations, I found my true passion through a local mentoring organization called Backfield in Motion. BIM took at-risk elementary and middle school boys with high academic potential, and allowed them to build the confidence to succeed both academically and personally. While I was hesitant to work with kids at first, given my memories of middle school, I realized that these kids faced many struggles similar to those I had dealt with all of my life. I began working with these students on a weekly basis, and became so involved with organization that I was made volunteer coordinator by my senior year. This position allowed me not only to work with the kids, but also to train and inspire other volunteers to work with these students and help them achieve their full potential.

In addition to my volunteer work, I also took it upon myself to challenge myself academically outside of school. I studied in Spain with Brown University, attended the Tennessee Governor’s School for International Studies, and studied in China with the University of Memphis’s Confucius Institute. It was through my passion for volunteering, my self-driven academic success, and the support of the Simon Youth Foundation that I am where I am today.

I am currently a rising junior at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am an economics major with a triple minor in Chinese, management, and social innovation and social entrepreneurship. This summer I am a commercial banking intern with First Tennessee Bank. As a student at Tulane University I have continued to volunteer with multiple volunteer organizations, and pushed myself academically. Thanks to my family and the Simon Youth Foundation, I have pushed myself to a level I would never have imagined possible just a few years ago.

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