Jessica Bunch ’16 Spearheads Multiple International Development Programs
Riverdale, N.Y. – Jessica Bunch ’16, a graduate of Mount Saint Vincent’s International Development and Service (IDS) program, is at the forefront of multiple youth development initiatives. A member of the Yonkers-East Yonkers Rotary Club, she is launching a chapter of Rotaract, a Rotary International program, at Mount Saint Vincent this semester. Rotaract brings together young adults ages 18-30 to engage in meaningful service in their local communities—as well as nationally and internationally.
Students perform Rotaract service projects that strive to address some of the world’s most critical issues, such as homelessness and poverty, hunger, access to clean water and adequate health care, disaster relief, the environment, sustainability, illiteracy, and education. The Yonkers-East Yonkers Rotary Club is sponsoring the CMSV Rotaract Club. The Yonkers-East Yonkers Rotary Club will provide CMSV Rotaract Club members the unique opportunity to network with humanitarian professionals in the New York City metropolitan area while also providing members access Rotary club meetings and district-wide Rotaract activities.
“In addition to connecting students to service opportunities throughout the New York City area, Rotaract can help them tap into an international network,” Jessica says. Rotaract can expand networking opportunities by connecting members to other Rotary and Rotaract clubs when traveling or studying abroad.
A New Orleans native, Jessica moved to Austin, Texas when she was 11. She received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Texas at San Antonio. After several years of working in the not-for-profit sector, Jessica enrolled in Concordia University-Portland’s IDS graduate program through study abroad leader IPSL and traveled to Siena, Italy. While in Siena, Jessica learned of REPCAM, a Yaounde, Cameroon-based youth organization offering critical support to more than 650 children of incarcerated parents. REPCAM was founded nearly 11 years ago to counteract the incarcerated parent-child stigma and work to amend the Cameroonian law prohibiting youth from visiting parents in prison. REPCAM focuses on bridging the parent-child relational gap through prison visits and various programs while also providing support to children through access to adequate healthcare resources, educational/psycho-social support, and basic necessities like food and clothing. “Often, these children of incarcerated parents are social outcasts,” Jessica says. “Their parents may be away for as many as 10 years or longer, some for minor offenses.”
While in Siena, Jessica co-developed a sustainable partnership with REPCAM and was successful in hosting a clothing and toy drive, as well as a fundraising event in Siena to support REPCAM. Her efforts allowed her to acquire a scholarship to travel to Yaounde to work hands-on with REPCAM and further develop the Siena-Yaounde partnership. In addition to her service in Siena and Cameroon, Jessica also studied in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Jessica finished her IDS degree at Mount Saint Vincent in December 2016.
In addition to Rotaract, Jessica has founded her own organization. The inspiration came when she traveled to New Orleans two years ago for a family reunion. The still-grim aftermath of Hurricane Katrina haunted her. “Many of the communities are infiltrated with drugs, underserved, and lack positive outlets for youth,” Jessica says. “You see the need to build a positive community.”
The experience moved her to found Geaux (Go) Lead, a youth development program targeting middle and high school-aged youth in underserved communities.
“I was aware of the inequities in many youth travel abroad programs, which often are only affordable for privileged students,” Jessica says. Geaux (Go) Lead, in contrast, targets underprivileged students. Its mission is to “lead, expose, and empower youth in underserved communities to become leaders through servant-leadership training and global travel opportunities.”
Within the next three years, Jessica plans to grow Geaux Lead through the development of sustainable partnerships with area schools, organizations, and mentorship programs to recruit youth for both national and international service/leadership travel opportunities.
Geaux Lead’s first international initiative is the Cameroon Dental Project—an expansion of Jessica’s work with REPCAM. A team of certified American Dentists and volunteers will travel to Cameroon this fall to provide dental services and oral health education to REPCAM’s children and families.
“I think it’s important to address the disproportionate number of people of color being able to have access and exposure to amazing travel abroad opportunities with a service-based focus,” Jessica says. “Geaux Lead will change that.”
About the College of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the College of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of achievement, professional accomplishment and leadership in the 21st century.