Shardae Jones is driven to help people access healthcare; she knows how hard it is to navigate the system without someone who is willing to help.
Growing up, she recalls her parents’ struggles with alcohol, drugs and rehab stints, making it difficult for the family to afford housing and health expenses. Today, she worries about her mother’s ability to afford care, especially since she has a chronic health condition and recently had an open-heart surgery.
“My mom is a felon, a three-time felon,” said Jones, who is earning her Bachelor of Integrated Studies in criminal justice, communication and health administration at WSU. “It’s hard for her to find jobs, it’s really hard for her to keep jobs.”
Jones recently started a position as the Communities that Care (CTC) specialist for the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership (OWCAP) in Roy, Utah, where she is part of a team that connects volunteers with local schools to educate students about preventing suicide, substance abuse and creating positive relationships at home and in school. Prior to this position, she worked as a community health worker for the Association for Utah Community Health (AUCH), where she helped those facing barriers to healthcare, including substance abuse issues, homelessness, lack of insurance and more.
Jones, a lifelong Ogdenite, said she can relate to the challenges her clients faced.
“I’m not any better than them. I work here, I’ve gone to school here, I’m involved in the community here, I’ve walked the streets here, I live here... I am them,” Jones said.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she joined other community members in the COVID-19 Multicultural Task Force for Ogden City, which operated from April to December 2020. The task force set out to increase access to care for underserved, underrepresented and historically marginalized communities. Partnering with local organizations, it held seven COVID-19 testing clinics and a flu vaccination clinic, lobbied local health organizations to provide health information in Spanish and distributed 60,000 masks.
After graduation, Jones wants to continue helping others as a healthcare administrator. She has found mentorship from Kenneth Johnson, WSU’s African American Retention Counselor in the Center for Multicultural Excellence, as she works toward her degree. The two meet monthly to discuss Jones’ progress in her classes, campus resources, scholarships and more.
“Mr. Johnson has been invaluable to my success these past few semesters,” Jones said. “He has made many African American students feel like they belong, not just me. He wants us to have a sense of pride about who we are and where we come from. This alone makes me want to push forward and become an example for other black students who may feel like higher education is out of reach for them.”
Johnson says working with Jones has been a pleasure, and she makes his job easy.
“She has all the tools — focus, determination and a never-give-up attitude — of a great student and even better person,” Johnson said.
With guidance from mentors like Johnson, a multi-faceted WSU education and experience working one-on-one with people in the community, Jones has no limits going forward. Recently, she accepted a position on the Ogden City Diversity Commission. Eventually, she plans to run for a position on the city council.
“I’ve been really blessed, but not everybody’s in the same position,” she said, “so, I just want to be able to give back in some way.”