Accident a wakeup call for living

This is the story about Youth Corps, a leadership program for ninth- and 10th-graders in Columbia. On May 11, at 7 p.m. in the evening, the latest crop of 36 Corps members will graduate from the nine-month program. Among them will be 16-year-old Samarya Jenkins.

But let’s back up.

On the morning of Sept. 3, 2013, Samarya was standing in the grass at the school bus stop in her neighhorhood, the Winslow community of Northeast Richland. The weather was pleasant; in the 70s. Samarya was wearing a pink and gray shirt, Levi’s and gray flats. Her back was turned to the intersection of two curbed streets that met at the bottom of a steep, curved hill.

There were about six other children waiting with Samarya when a car came around the corner and hit her.

“There’s not much I remember about the accident because I went blank,” Samarya said. “One of my shoes was on one side of the road and the other on the other side. My glasses were in the road.”

“Two boys picked Samarya up and carried her home,” said Sonya Jenkins, Samarya’s mother.

An ambulance was called. Samarya – a passionate athlete (basketball, track and field and bowling) – had suffered a severe concussion and her right knee was a wreck, requiring four screws to repair.

“The accident changed my life so much I didn’t know who my mother was,” Samarya said. “I couldn’t play any of my favorite sports anymore. I was home bound and couldn’t spend my ninth grade year in school.”

“She was continuously having headaches,” Jenkins said. “Her brain had shifted more than the average person who has a concussion. She was so down and out.”

“I felt as if the world was against me,” Samarya said. “I felt alone.”

And then came Youth Corps, aimed at giving participants a variety of hands-on experiences exposing them to the needs of their community and turning them into leaders.

Developing leadership skills among young people, said Jeff Becraft, who has been the executive director of Youth Corps for 10 years, “is one of the most overlooked needs in our society. The impact of leadership development is exponential. If you change that one kid into a leader, that leader will then influence 100 people.

“Our students come from all over Richland and Lexington counties. They come from different schools, different grades and races, different economic levels. Kids apply to the program ( and we wind up with 36. We want it to be a game-changing experience.”

And so it was for Samarya.

Because of the accident, she’s not allowed to play contact sports. Life on the basketball court as a forward or shooting guard? Game over.

So, Samarya applied and was accepted into Youth Corps.

“Before Youth Corps, I was a content child. Now I’ve stepped up and become who I know I am.

“Youth Corps helped me realize how blessed I am and how I don’t have to be afraid to be who I am … When we went to the Ronald McDonald House, that made me realize life is nothing to play with … God had a purpose for me that I didn’t know about before the accident, but when I got to Youth Corps, I figured out my purpose.”

And what’s that?

Samarya is shooting for Winthrop University or the University of Georgia. She wants to attend law school and establish a rehabilitation program for young women that will help them “know they have a voice and can do anything they put their mind to.”

Game on.

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