Anika Madison, one of our partner bloggers, interviewed someone she greatly admires. Here is her interview with Mrs. Cassandra Sheppard, President and CEO of Youth Impact Ministries, Inc. in Miami-Dade, Florida.
Mrs. Cassandra Sheppard, head of the Youth Impact Ministries, Inc., received her undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Florida International University, Miami. FL. She also received a Master’s Certification from the University of Miami in Strategic Prevention and Planning, and Intervention.
Cassandra started her community work in the late 80s after graduating from college. Her first job was a Trust Counselor for Dade County Public Schools. She was also involved with prevention programs designed to help at-risk children.
Cassandra continued her work at Richmond Middle School where she helped children deal with personal issues. Her work eventually grew to include entire families when she moved to Booker T. Washington High School. This move was the precursor to her reaching out to the community. Cassandra provided counseling and guided families toward helpful resources which empowered them to begin new lives.
Cassandra feels that serving the community is her calling because she is passionate about helping others. She gets excited when she witnesses lives being transformed because of the assistance she has provided. Cassandra has always worked with troubled youth. She feels that “God has empowered her to empower these youth.”
In 2004, Cassandra launched the Youth Impact Ministries, Inc., whose mission is to “empower, impact and emancipate families, children and senior citizens.” It serves as a community resource and supplies food and clothing to senior citizens as well as after school care, summer camps and mentorship for youth.
Cassandra prefers to work with teenagers; however, the Youth Impact Ministries, Inc. organization has expanded to include children who are in Kindergarten. She says that when she started her goal was to “help change the mindsets of the youth she counsels so that they will have a different mindset as an adult.” Cassandra’s mission is to start counseling children at a young age with a goal of breaking the cycle of dependency. She feels that “when you teach youth how to be self-sufficient, then you have changed a generation.”
When Cassandra started Youth Impact Ministries, Inc., she took one of the youth she was working with on a college tour. This young lady was told she would never make it in college and she accepted what she was told. Cassandra’s influence led her to improve her grades in high school and continue her education by attending the University of Florida. She is now an engineer.
In the next five to ten years, Cassandra wants to have a full 24-hour community center that will allow families to come in at any time and utilize the center’s resources. She wants the center to be a safe haven for youth and offer nontraditional opportunities like midnight basketball. One of her main goals is to have a place that keeps at-risk youth off the streets. Cassandra wants to show these youth better ways to spend their time and how to invest in themselves in order to have a better future.
With the growing violence in the community, there have been meetings, marches and rallies to address this very serious concern. While Cassandra supports all of these efforts, she feels more needs to be done. She has been outspoken at many of these meetings trying to encourage the creation of ministries that empower youth. Cassandra sees ministry as holistic. She uses this holistic approach when she is involved in community outreach. Cassandra wants to empower youth through scholastic and financial education which will help them handle their emotions as well as provide them spiritual direction. She believes in taking care of the whole person.
Cassandra’s mission is help others transform into what God has created them to be. She is answering this call not only through her organization, but also with her own family. One of her favorite scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She likes how in the book of Isaiah, “God declares the end from the beginning; therefore, He already declared what we would be and He said there is an expected outcome that is prosperity for us.”
Cassandra works with other community service driven organizations. In the past, she was active with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. She is not currently active but is looking forward to becoming active again. She is also active in her church and she is on the board of Trinity Empowerment Consortium, which provides education and counseling to help individuals reach their goals.
I ended the interview by asking what advice she would give others who want to get involved in working with at-risk youth. Her first advice is to understand how much of a sacrifice they will be making. She wants them to not get discouraged when it seems like things are not working and they are not seeing any changes in the youth they are trying to help. “You are planting seeds which you will see grow later,” she said. “There will be people that want to change and others that don’t. You have to be able to discern the difference so that you only spend the time with those that do want to change. You also have to have balance in your life and know how to delegate and teach others how to do the things that need to be done. You cannot do everything by yourself and you cannot do things that others are supposed to be doing for them. You have to be creative, innovative and always changing with the times.”
Cassandra had advice for anyone desiring to work in the community. “You need to network and come together with others in your community to create change,” she said. “It is important to leverage all of the available resources and use each person’s talents to help the community. You can have some to counsel, some to mentor and provide many other services in order to have something that is comprehensive and holistic that can serve everyone.”
Mrs. Cassandra Sheppard is one of the shining lights in the Miami-Dade community.
Editor’s note: Youth Impact Ministries, Inc. is NOT a registered tax-exempt organization with the IRS.
Freelance Writer, Script Writer and Blogger Anika Madison can be found at Anikamadison.com.