Behind the infectious smile and sunny demeanor of Shy Ann Jackson, a Mashpee High School senior and Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod Youth of the Year, there is a deeper story to tell about the effects of substance abuse on teens.
The story is not only about disadvantaged youth from broken homes and neglectful families. It is also about high-achieving, ambitious students who come from stable families—students like her.
Shy Ann and two other finalists, her close friends Kayla Burnell and Sarah Nasuti, were interviewed last week by a panel of judges—including Mashpee Police Chief Rodney C. Collins; Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank director of community relations David B. Willard; New Seabury Real Estate sales executive Ann MacDonald; state Representative Brian Mannal; Comcast vice president of governmental affairs Mary O’Keefe; and Mashpee Men’s Club member Russell W. Maloney—for the Youth of the Year award, for which Shy Ann will receive a $1,500 scholarship from the Mashpee Men’s Club.
When asked why she was named the Youth of the Year, she described her leadership skills in the club and in school, as well as her participation in the Boys & Girls Club’s Keystone Club leadership program for teens. However, she admitted that she was not always a shining example for peers.
As a freshman new to the Mashpee school system, Shy Ann said, “I got involved with the wrong crew and made some bad decisions.”
The first time she attended the Boys & Girls Club’s alcohol- and drug-free Teen Night, she arrived less than an hour after “sobering up,” and the experience served as a wake-up call.
“One of my biggest flaws is not believing in myself,” she said, adding that over time, the club’s after-school programs and its teen director, Mallory Callinan, helped her recognize her strengths. In her sophomore year, her grades improved dramatically and she became president of Keystone.
When Shy Ann’s family struggled with her older brother, Joseph Jackson Jr.’s addiction, the club became a safe haven.
“It became my second family,” she said. “It was another place for me to be.”
Today, Shy Ann realizes that her story of substance abuse is one of many. On April 29, she plans to help others find their voices by hosting a free substance abuse wellness night for all, called “Voices Heard” at the Boys & Girls Club at 6 PM.
“I don’t want it to be like, ‘Drugs are bad,’ ” she said. “If people are abusing substances, I want them to know that there is help.”
The event is the culmination of her senior project and will provide resources for substance abuse and addiction. Chief Collins will attend as well as representatives from the fire department and the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department; the high school’s chapter of Project Purple; Gosnold on Cape Cod; the Structured Outpatient Addiction Program (SOAP); and Alateen, a fellowship of young Al-Anon members who have been affected by someone else’s drinking.
She hopes her brother will attend, too.
“When I go talk about my brother, I’m going to be like, ‘Whoa, I just did that. That’s so cool,’ ” she said. Joseph is currently 15 months sober, and Shy Ann celebrates his progress with each month’s passing.
Shy Ann lives with her parents, Donna M. Jackson and Joseph C. Jackson in North Falmouth. Upon graduating, she plans to enter the US Army National Guard as a chaplain assistant and begin college courses in 2015 to become a certified social worker.