Jenyka Gassnola '17: Advocate for women who need a second chance

During her internship at Together We Bake, Jenyka Gassnola '17 gained new skills, was featured in an NPR article, and was invited to a White House event.

Jenyka at the White House event Champions of Change.

Year: Class of 2017
Major: Crime & Justice Studies
Minors: Women's & Gender Studies
Hometown: Springfield
Internships: Together We Bake; Hampden County/After Incarceration Support Systems
Leadership: Vice President, Mental Note Musical Ensemble; Secretary, Black Student Union
Service: American Reads*Counts, CONNECT College Positive

Editor’s note: UMass Dartmouth students can apply for internships in Washington, D.C. through our partnership with The Washington Center. Interns live at one of center’s residences in the D.C. area.

D.C. internship at Together We Bake

My Washington Center internship was at Together We Bake (TWB), a job training program for women in the Washington, D.C. area. TWB helps women gain self-confidence, skills, and experience so they can find employment and move toward self-sufficiency. The focus is on food safety and baking instruction, product sales and delivery, and life skills development.

As an intern, I managed TWB’s Job Counselor Volunteer Program, which helps team members prepare to reenter the workforce. I also coordinated TWB’s Spring2Action online fundraising campaign, doubling donations to over $10,000. I approached prospective employers about building new partnerships. And I facilitated the Empowered Women International’s Entrepreneur Bootcamp, which channels the talents of immigrant, refugee, and low-income women into small businesses to create a new generation of American entrepreneurs.

Jenyka Gassnola - Together We Bake
Jenyka (front, far left) at Together We Bake, spring 2016.

Enhancing skills, creating opportunities

My internship through The Washington Center has confirmed my career aspirations, prepared me for professional living, helped me better define my personal and professional goals, and has been the catalyst for skills development. I became a stronger leader, a more confident advocate for women’s reform, and a more innovative person, conceptualizing new ideas for the future of the organization.

My internship most certainly increased my opportunities for employment and future endeavors. While I was at TWB, I was featured in an NPR article about the organization.

Jenyka at the Champions of Change event with Together We Bake co-founders Tricia Sabatini, left, and Stephanie Wright, right.
Jenyka attended the Champions of Change event with Together We Bake co-founders Tricia Sabatini, left, and Stephanie Wright, right.

Ready to take on the world

My biggest accomplishment was being invited to a White House event, Champions of Change, as part of National Reentry Week.

Stephanie Wright, co-founder of TWB and my internship supervisor, was named one of D.C.’s Champions of Change, which “honors everyday Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities.” Stephanie participated in an armchair discussion moderated by Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the President—and I was asked to attend the event in recognition of my dedication to TWB.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, and Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher P. Lu were also at this event. I was able to speak with one of the panelists, Sabra Williams of the Actors’ Gang Prison Project, which was a monumental moment for me because I have followed her work for years.

Just to have been in the same room as these influential people was an experience I never thought I would have. I remember thinking that I had the ability to take on the world—that after all of my doubts and the hardships of my life, I have really made something of myself, that anything is possible.

Jenyka visiting Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal
Jenyka had the opportunity to visit Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal.

“Only in D.C.”

While in the nation’s capital, I had many “only in D.C.” experiences. I visited a number of monuments and museums, including the Washington Memorial, National Museum of African Art, The White House, the DEA Museum, and most beautifully, the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

I learned that D.C. is home to smart, talented, career-oriented citizens with strong work ethics. The D.C. ethos is to network to create your own community and build your own cohort of amazing people.

One of the greatest moments was being able to meet with my congressman, Rep. Richard Neal, in his office at the Cannon Building. We spoke about public policy issues within my home community, Springfield (he used to be the mayor) and topics relating to the presidential race.

Internship with After Incarceration Support Systems program

This summer I have an internship with Hampden County Sheriff’s Department After Incarceration Support Systems. AISS assists formerly incarcerated people in all aspects of their lives as they transition from incarceration into the community. This program is not only an amazing resource for ex-offenders, but this has always been my dream job.

So far, I have been given a lot of responsibility and opportunity because of my experience at TWB and the way that I can now network and perform in a professional manner.

Researching the treatment of women in prison

I’m majoring in Crime & Justice with minors in Black Studies (BLS) and Women’s & Gender Studies (WGS). I want to gain a deeper understanding of social and cultural injustices, civil and social rights advocacy, women’s prison reform, and how to become a better feminist. I pride myself on being a diverse person, and I think it’s common sense to take both these minors with my major.

I believe that every student should be mandated to take a class in those fields for the sake of benefiting diversity and cultural awareness.

Prisons are structured for men because committing a crime is culturally seen as male behavior, which then creates injustices and unfair treatment for women who are incarcerated.  As a result of my research in these fields, I’m fascinated by the heightened recidivism rates among women in prison. I’m studying what needs to change across cultural, societal, correctional, and federal levels, for those rates to decrease.

Promoting the goal of college attendance

While at UMassD, I’ve been involved with many groups that have made a huge impact on my life. For my work-study job, I worked with America Reads*Counts in a New Bedford elementary school, helping a class of third-graders with their reading, writing, and math skills.

I was also a CONNECT College Positive tour guide and mentor for UMassD. My responsibility was to foster the idea of attending a university to further young children’s education and livelihood. I guided groups of 20+ New Bedford middle school students through the campus for a university experience.

This fall, I’ll continue to be involved with the campus group We Are Women. It’s a student-led organization to support, encourage, and empower the community through education and conversations about women and to foster the ability to recognize the importance of women.

Plans for a career in corrections and advanced study

Following graduation—and depending on where my life takes me—I will either be going into the Corrections Academy or attending American International College to earn my master’s degree in forensic psychology. Later in life, once I have built a strong resume, I will return to school to earn a second bachelor's degree in nonprofit business and management, in hopes of starting my own re-entry program for women in western Massachusetts.

More information

Experiential Learning & Internships

The Washington Center

College of Arts & Science: Crime & Justice Studies

College of Arts & Sciences: Black Studies

College of Arts & Sciences: Women's & Gender Studies


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