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Check Out Jessica Highstreet’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Highstreet. 

Hi Jessica, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I have always highly valued helping where help is needed. My mom tells stories of volunteering at a shelter for domestic abuse survivors while she was pregnant with me. Perhaps it all started way back then. In high school, as I began to consider careers, I thought of those who had supported me most in my life and whose work I really admired. I thought of my teachers and of my family – several of whom have had amazing careers as teachers. I started volunteering and working with students in my hometown of Hobe Sound, Florida, and it was all so natural and fulfilling and honestly, really fun. I could see the difference I was making in real-time. So, I immersed myself in the field of education and graduated from Indian River State College in 2011 with a degree in special education. I taught in all sorts of environments in the years that followed – traditional classroom teaching, teaching small groups at a private academy, tutoring students 1-on-1 through a juvenile justice program. I loved the knowledge I gained from each experience. Then, I also found an avid appreciation of non-profit work through volunteering on board committees at the same pre-school I attended as a child. 

When I moved to Colorado in 2015, I knew I wanted to find more opportunities to do worthwhile work in my new community. For a few years, I enjoyed working as a job coach and a resource coordinator for adults with developmental disabilities. Currently, I teach middle school students social-emotional skills through the Denver-based non-profit YESS Institute. I also serve on the board of directors for the non-profit REshape Minds, whose mission is to work with incarcerated adults to help them successfully integrate into society through personalized case management. I am so proud to be a part of these organizations that provide incredible services to our community. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I want to be one of the helpers because others have helped me. A lot of my motivation comes from the pain I’ve experienced in life and the gratitude I have for the people that have supported me through it. I think about going to grief camp and ongoing counseling at twelve years old after my dad passed away. I think about how much that helped me process my grief. These were not services our family would have been able to afford out of pocket, but I had school counselors that found those resources for my family at no cost. I wonder how much harder that time might have been without those services. And I wonder how many people don’t have the same access I had. It drives me in the work I do with YESS Institute where I help students understand and manage their emotional well-being. 

My experiences also drive me in the work I do with REshape Minds. I have watched loved one’s struggle to reintegrate into society after being incarcerated and wished that services like these would have existed. Now I get to be a part of helping families like my own. It has been so rewarding to watch this non-profit go from an idea to reality. REshape Minds received our 501(c)3 non-profit approval this month (October 2021). 

There have definitely been some tough times. And when life gets tough, I use writing as an emotional outlet. I self-published my poetry collection Rose Hips in June 2020. The book is very personal and vulnerable. It’s about growing up, learning hard lessons, experiencing loss and heartache. I loved every part of creating my book and plan to publish more writing in the future. The catharsis I feel from writing has helped me countless times. It’s something I share with my students and even family and friends. I encourage everyone to nurture whatever outlets work for them. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m excited for everything that’s happening with YESS Institute and REshape Minds. YESS Institute continues to expand its reach to new schools and new programs around the Denver metro area and nationwide. Our staff at YESS has really done inspiring work throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic and showed amazing resourcefulness in getting services to our students and families. They just celebrated their 20th anniversary as an organization and one of my co-workers is even a former YESS student. I love my team and the work we do. 

REshape Minds has received its approval and has so much coming up. There’s a lot of crucial steps to starting a non-profit that can’t be completed until tax-exempt status is approved by the IRS, so this is pivotal. We can move forward now in some big ways. We are planning fundraising events and getting the word out about who we are. I am so ready to see REshape Minds really take off in the next few months. 

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
I love living in Denver. I love the people and the sense of community. I am inspired by the social awareness and activism here. There’s literally not enough hours in the day for all the different things to do – concerts, museums, parks, open mic nights, sports leagues. And you really can’t beat the weather here. It’s a beautiful city! 

And while there are so many folks here working so hard to promote progress, there is also still much to be done to bring more equity and inclusion to Denver. I hope to see our city continue to fight for local institutions that are just and programs that support the needs of everyone in our community. 

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