“Jumpstart is in my blood and in my brain. It’s really shifted and shaped my life and I always refer back to what I learned at Jumpstart.”
Throughout 2019, in honor of Jumpstart’s 25th Anniversary, we will be highlighting 25 Faces of Jumpstart. This campaign celebrates the wide variety of people who have played a major role in Jumpstart’s history — our founders, volunteers from Jumpstart’s past, Jumpstart children and their families, influential donors and supporters, and more. We cannot wait to share their stories with you — how they helped shape and grow Jumpstart into what it is today, the impact that Jumpstart has had on their own lives, and their vision for the next 25 years of Jumpstart.
“Jumpstart,” says Kamalah Fletcher, “made me a connector. Solutions for communities are all about connecting the right dots.” And Kamalah should know — throughout her career, she has focused on solving all types of community challenges, such as healthcare access, community development, financial stability, and climate resilience. She currently serves as the Community Partnerships Manager and Emergency Management Support for the American Red Cross’ South Florida region. In this role, Kamalah helps the Red Cross to convene, engage, and mobilize communities, connecting them to support systems and resources in times of disaster. In each of her different roles, Kamalah has brought the lessons she learned from Jumpstart — like how to most effectively engage with children and adults, the importance of experiential learning, and that one should always have a plan A, B, and C. “Jumpstart is in my blood and in my brain. It’s really shifted and shaped my life and I always refer back to what I learned at Jumpstart.”
Kamalah’s Jumpstart story started nearly 25 years ago when she served as a college student volunteer in Boston from 1995-1997. “I found Jumpstart [while at Boston University]. I fell in love and was really excited about the training and the approach.” Kamalah remembers the moment in the classroom when the impact of her service truly clicked for her: “I missed a Jumpstart session once and when I came in for the next one, my Jumpstart partner child wouldn’t talk to me. When I finally got her to tell me what was wrong, she said, ‘I’m mad at you. Where were you last time? You said you were coming.’ It didn’t occur to me that my presence mattered to her. I never missed another session.” She adds with a laugh, “Well, maybe never is a stretch — but I made sure I communicated with her so there were no surprises.”
Kamalah was so inspired by her service that she joined the staff. She worked briefly with the organization but left when she moved home to Florida. A few years later, she found herself in Baltimore, and a new opportunity arose to support the organization she cared so deeply about: she returned to Jumpstart and spent the next five years managing the Jumpstart program at Morgan State University.
“Jumpstart taught me you must meet the needs of the group without forgetting about the needs of the individual. You should take an asset-based approach instead of focusing on what’s wrong – everyone has gifts and talents. Finally, and most importantly, both children and communities know what they need, they should be listened to and should lead the way to solutions.”
Kamalah describes Jumpstart’s first 25 years as child-focused and catalytic — both for the children and communities served as well as for herself personally. “Jumpstart still impacts my life at least a little bit every day.” And she has lots of ideas of what the future could hold and believes that Jumpstart has the opportunity to leverage its resources to drive an even greater impact. “There’s a lot more that Jumpstart can be contributing to the national early childhood community. Even in places where the organization can’t open up a site, there’s a way for Jumpstart to impact and connect to early childhood professionals.” You can see Kamalah’s gears begin to turn, thinking of ways to license Jumpstart’s trainings or create a trade book based on the organization’s framework of how to approach early childhood education work. As for herself, and other alumni like her? She envisions a strong pay-it-forward approach: older alumni who serve as mentors to younger classes of Jumpstart volunteers and provide a network of local contacts when alumni move to a new city.
Kamalah’s story is echoed throughout the alumni network, as so many of Jumpstart’s former volunteers go on to do extraordinary things and commit their lives to making a difference. As Jumpstart embarks on its next 25 years, you can bet that Kamalah will be there — cheering Jumpstart on and continuously thinking about how to build new bridges and connections to support the organization that’s been so influential for her own path.
Some quotes have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.