A life committed to children’s advocacy started with volunteering


Jessica Cannon '90

Jessica Cannon’s career is dedicated to advocating for children, and it all started as an undergraduate at Brandeis volunteering at Prospect Hill Terrace, a public housing complex in Waltham.

Today, Cannon ‘90 is the principal at a public school in Oakland, California. But in 1986 when she applied for nearly every option at a Waltham Group recruiting event, she was a just a first year Brandeis student looking for a volunteer opportunity. The after school program at Prospect Hill Terrace, Waltham’s largest public housing complex, happened to be the first one to get back to her.

For the rest of her freshman year, Jessica led after school enrichment programs for groups of children living at Prospect Hill Terrace.  From tie dying to scavenger hunts to cooking lessons to helping with homework.

By sophomore year, Jessica was recruited as a coordinator for the Prospect Terrace Recreation program. In this role, she trained other Brandeis students to work with the children living in Prospect Terrace.  She also expanded the program to include a second public housing development, Dana Court.

“It was a pivotal moment in my life, I saw first hand how poverty and other challenging social conditions in this country impacted kids,” she said. “Seeing it in that light and performing direct service fueled my commitment to social justice and empowered me in my ability to create safe and positive spaces for kids.”

After a year in Israel following graduation, Cannon moved to California where she worked at after school programs and sought a master's degree in social work. She was a sixth grade teacher for 10 years in Oakland Public Schools before becoming an administrator. She has been a lead administrator at Chabot Elementary School since 2008.

“To this day, I am committed to making sure that every kid has access to what they need to be successful and have their needs met,” Cannon said. “That started, really, with the Waltham Group and at Prospect Terrace."

As Cannon has remained committed to improving children’s lives, The Waltham Group has remained committed to Prospect Hill Terrace. The Prospect Hill Community Foundation, a non-profit organization, was recently established by representatives from Brandeis, Bentley University, the Waltham Housing Authority, the Waltham Police Department and the Prospect Hill community to continue to support programs and volunteerism at Prospect Hill. A collaboratively established community center opened there in 2014, which offers an after school program, a teen program, a community garden and classes for English language learners.

Founded in 1966, the Waltham Group is a volunteer community service organization that coordinates participation in outreach programs for students at Brandeis. Each year, more than 1250 students volunteer more than 40,000 hours through the Waltham Group’s network of student-led volunteer programs that partner with nonprofit and government organizations in the city of Waltham and beyond. The Waltham Group is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a family carnival, gala and more on the weekend of Oct. 8 and 9.

Categories: Alumni

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