Girls Incorporated mentor inspires and empowers. She may have been a bit leery when she first landed in Denver as a high school student, but LaRae Scott-Jennings soon adapted and became a model for metro area young women. Twenty-eight year old Scott-Jennings exudes the character of a seasoned professional who has learned from her academic studies as well as her interactions and observations. She passes on this knowledge and wisdom to the young women she meets through girls inc., the organization officially known as Girls Incorporated of Metro Denver. Scott-Jennings is charged with developing, facilitating and evaluating programs tailored to meet the needs of youth ages 6-18 in and around the Denver metro area. She also provides direct services and is enthusiastic about mentoring at the Girls Incorporated of Metro Denver’s (GIMD) West Side Teen Center site and at numerous partner sites.
“I was born in Gary, Indiana, and moved here with my mother in 1996 as Mom was getting back into the work force. She hadn’t worked for 16 years,” Scott-Jennings recalls. The family had relatives in Denver, but being from Indiana, she wasn’t aware of the diversity she would encounter. She had moved during her sophomore year of high school, and that was hard on her. “I was used to the same kind of folks. I was grateful to be here, but mad at the same time,” she says. “I’d never had a friend who wasn’t black in race and in mind-set. We’d always lived in Gary. “Denver was so different; it was a melting pot of culture. It was a culture shock to me, but I welcomed it; it was a challenge,” she now says. Challenge is a welcome visitor for Scott-Jennings, who says she likes being pushed to achieve good results. After high school she enrolled in the armed forces. “I had been recruited, but my teachers and parents expected me to go to college. My mom had never asked me not to do something, but she asked me if I shouldn’t consider going to school. I enjoyed the miniature boot camp and came back saying it was a piece of cake. But I’d never seen her (Mom) as concerned as she was at that moment. I had a shipment day set up, but then I contacted the recruiter and called it off,” Scott-Jennings says. Later, she ran into a counselor who asked what she was doing. She responded that she hadn’t done anything to prepare for college.
The next thing she knew, she was at Metropolitan State College, a place where she would ultimately become very active. She became involved in the Black Student Union and student government. Serving as vice president of diversity for Metro State College’s student government assembly, she became an integral leader in Metro’s diversity within the community. She earned a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology and a minor in African- American studies. “I was heavily involved with the Black Student Union,” she says. “It got to be overwhelming because I wanted to do everything in extracurricular activities. I had to take a step back, left school and took a job. I worked full time for a while and had two jobs. I said that when I went back to school, I’d focus on school.” Along the way, Scott-Jennings became involved in a peer mentorship program known as LINKS. “Being able to talk to people in class and in passing, you try not to pass up the moment where you can tell someone about your experiences. It was informal, but I also did some formal role modeling. It was interesting to go back to school. I had left school at 21 and went back at 24, graduating at the age of 26,” she says.
She has been with girls inc. since January 2006. She learned about the position through one of the professors at Metro. Although girls inc. didn’t have any job openings at the time, she happened to drive by their building one day, and in a fluke, visited their Web site and applied for a position. She was called for an interview. She admits to being nervous, “but it was almost like talking with a friend. I ended up getting the position with the East Side girls and worked 25 hours a week,” she says. Scott-Jennings says she felt as though she was role modeling for all girls in America. The girls were from Africa and didn’t speak much English. She explains, “I told my husband I wasn’t connecting with these girls on a level they needed. Once I realized I needed to let down from correcting them, it helped. There was an implication that I knew what they should think, and then I started to learn that I didn’t necessarily know what they should think. My character has developed tremendously because of the work with these girls and the girls I am working with now. They give me something, and I give them something. They give me the power to be honest. When there was a possibility I wouldn’t be working with them, I said I needed to be with these girls.”
Scott-Jennings strongly believes that her calling is to work with girls. Her job as a youth program coordinator was being phased out, so she decided to try for another job within the organization. The position of community educator opened up, and she has been in it for almost two years. Today, she interacts more with girls. The interaction is fun and unpredictable, too, as the girls ask questions ranging from “How did you meet your husband?” to “When do you think you should lose your virginity?” On the question of sex, girls inc. offers an Abstinence Plus program, which takes place at Morey Middle School. Scott- Jennings comments, “I got real comfortable real quick. One girl said I was the bravest woman she knows to be able to sit there and answer these questions. Girls inc. has given me the opportunity to look at all facets of development. It is funny because we come back and say to each other, ‘You won’t believe what I had to answer today.’ The girls watch us, they scrutinize us. We are constantly modeling.”
Scott-Jennings explains that the counselors at girls inc. are not social workers. They are available to show girls their options: “If you have a first-generation girl or a girl who represents her family, you can show behavior she can copy. It’s very rewarding to see a student get it. It’s almost like ice cream on a hot day.”
Honored for her work, Scott- Jennings has represented Girls Incorporated of Metro Denver at the Girls Inc. National Training of Trainers Conference, which focuses on preparing educators to facilitate curricula for staff and outside partners. She has developed instructional materials for Mi Avenida/My Avenue, a college prep program to align with College in Colorado core standards as well as district curricula. She was chosen to participate in the highly selective 2008 class of Chamber Connect, a leadership program developed by the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she serves as a member of the Denver Youth Development Initiative (DYDI) at East and Montbello High Schools’ Pre-Collegiate Collaborative. Both groups are focused on giving college prep services, resources and opportunities to high school students at East and Montbello.
Married to Michael Jennings, Scott- Jennings says her mate is very supportive and a good example of someone she wants to model. He keeps her grounded, and his character speaks volumes about him. Michael works for a health-based program for college students. In addition, he plays football in a semi-pro league. They enjoy watching football together. Together, they have given empowerment workshops for girls. She emphasizes, “We need to focus on strengths of kids. Most people want to be recognized. It’s as simple as saying something like ‘you’re really funny.’ We’re always looking for the next doctor or next scientist. But we should support all kids.” Her support for youth is unwavering. The girls she comes in contact with are truly fortunate to have LaRae Scott- Jennings, who lives her life as an inspiration to young girls everywhere.
Written by SHARON ALMIRALL
Photography by KIRA HORVATH