Full Circle: Jessica Avery Pays it Forward

Every year, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) gives out over 1,000 awards to students living in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties. These awards come in the form of scholarships and interest-free loans

Jessica Avery, Community Foundation of WM volunteer reviewer

The only way it’s possible to go through the hundreds of applications received for these awards is with the help of volunteers like Jessica Avery who recently participated in a scholarship reading round.

She says that being able to step up and help with awarding scholarships means a lot for her because she too has benefitted from financial assistance through CFWM.

“It was really important for me because I know that I wouldn’t be where I am in my academic career like without support from the Community Foundation.”

Avery was a gender studies major at Mount Holyoke College for her undergrad studies. She wanted to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration at UMass Amherst and applied for an interest-free educational loan from CFWM. 

“I was working at the state house for five years before I got this master’s degree. I really knew that I wanted to level up in my career. I knew that I could make the most of [the Master’s program] and also get really great resources from UMass Amherst.”

She was awarded a loan and began the Master’s program in 2020, receiving her confirmation in March, just three days before Governor Baker announced the shutdown of businesses and schools due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jessica Avery (left) with Atty. General Andrea Campbell

After graduating in 2022, she quickly made use of her new knowledge and networks. She became a lobbyist with the Cooperative Credit Union Association, a multi-state credit union trade association.

Avery also decided to play an active role in shaping the politics of her hometown, Chicopee. She joined the campaign team of Shirley Arriaga, who had started a run for State Representative.

“I used a lot of the skills from that degree to work as her field director and then moved on to be her campaign manager. And she was the underdog but became the first woman and person of color to win the primary and general election and is now the State Representative for Chicopee.”

Reflecting on this work, Avery finds herself feeling thankful for her education. “I really feel like my degree was an instrumental part of me stepping into those roles, and having the skill set the network, and really just the confidence.”

Jessica Avery (right) with State Rep. Shirley Arriaga

Now she wants to help make the same opportunities available to others. “I think it’s really important that when you benefit from something you kind of pay that forward.”

She ends off with words of encouragement for those who would like to help with the scholarship reading; “Yeah, I would say just reach out and see how you can get involved. I think sometimes people think that they have to be the perfect volunteer candidate. You can help with your time, talents, and treasure. It’s not just about your money.”

She says it needn’t be a big time commitment; “So, thinking about the skill sets that you have in your day-to-day life, or thinking about your networks, you can pay that forward in different and unique ways. There’s no perfect way. And it’s also not as time-consuming as people imagine. I found it fun and informative reading through and seeing what young people are doing…It’s a great way just to be engaged. And I did it all remotely, so that was great.”

To express interest in volunteer opportunities, email Vice President for People and Culture Briana Wales-Thaxton at bwales@communityfoundation.org.