Local woman creates legacy out of loss

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One young woman who has created a legacy out of loss is impacting young people in Acadiana.

When she was volunteering as a mentor in college while she earned her degree in Child and Family studies at UL, Jenea Griffin had no idea how useful that experience would be, or what would lead her to putting that experience to good use.

She says her younger brother Jamal was 12-years-old when he went to vacation bible school and drowned in a pool.

Janea, and her siblings enjoy a close relationship, and the one she lost was never far from her thoughts.

She says she went through a difficult time delivering her daughter, and was placed in ICU.

During that time, she said she saw her brother in a dream.

“I was praying, meditating, I asked God, what is it you want me to do, what is it you’re putting on my heart to do. That’s when I founded Jamal Smiles which is my non-profit in honor of him.”

The mission of Jamal Smiles is to serve young people through mentorship and to teach them life skills to help motivate them to become leaders.

While there are organizations that provide similar services to children in Acadiana, Jenea concentrates on bringing Jamal Smiles to them.

“We have a lot of resources in Acadiana, but there’s not a lot of resources that’s willing to go out into the community that’s underserved and I want to let the children know that they’re not left behind because a lot of the parents work two to three jobs and they don’t have time to bring the child to a mentoring program or to a basketball game, or do that sort of thing so that’s why I want to be there.”

Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in child and family studies and plenty of volunteer work under her belt, Jenea started Jamal Smiles in January of 2018.

Since then, the group has provided free back to school haircuts to children, she’s partnered with X House to give them bicycles for Christmas, and she hosts Jamal’s Power Hour, walking through neighborhoods, handing out lunches and visiting with children during the summer.

Jenea is hoping to make an even greater impact in more under-served communities.

“I would like to have homes in different neighborhoods where it’s a safe haven for the children where they can come and it can be like a tutoring session, they can have game systems, we can have a computer there for me to help them with homework. That’s my end goal is to have that in every community.”

As she continues to grow her organization to help these young people, she is also attending law school, specializing in family law.

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