Scholarships allowed Kennedy to become the first social work student with an international practicum placement.
The dreams of seven-year old girls don’t always come true, but for Ann-Marie Kennedy, they did. Growing up in rural Jamaica, Ann-Marie wanted to see the world beyond Garlands, her small farming community in the parish of St. James. Her paternal grandfather cultivated a global perspective and the mobile library van nurtured her curiosity. When she was 35 years old and after her family immigrated to Florida, Ann-Marie joined the U.S. Army. As a soldier, she finally realized her childhood dreams. Within five years as an active-duty medic, Ann-Marie was injured and the identity she’d work so hard to develop came to an abrupt stop.
Before separating from the military, Ann-Marie met with a career counselor who encouraged her to return to school. After researching her options, connecting with other former soldiers and studying online reviews, Ann-Marie chose to study social work at Kansas State University. Social work leveraged her prior teaching career and the experience of having to reassess her identity following her military service.
“I was losing a career that I identified with and that brought me to Kansas,” Ann-Marie said. “I needed to rebuild myself. I needed new skills. Then I had to ask myself if I wanted a glamorous desk job or do I want to help people triumph as they rebuild. Could I care for others as I had needed care?”
As a non-traditional student responsible for a mortgage and her bills, Ann-Marie knew she would have to work and attend school. Fortunately, she pursued scholarships and was awarded several, which allowed her to work fewer hours and study more.
Scholarships also allowed her to become the first social work student with an international practicum placement. The Gilman Scholarship provided travel funds for Ann-Marie to fly to Thailand and work at the Emergency Home for Women and Children in Bangkok. There, she helped people who had suffered abuse of every kind navigate their next steps, housing options, legal and medical care, education opportunities and skill development.
“My aim was to give women strength,” Ann-Marie said, “and empower them to acquire skills so they could take care of their basic needs, relationships and job training so they could survive on their own. One central thing I facilitated was to help women find out what they wanted for themselves and help them make it happen.”
Ann-Marie, a “small girl from rural Jamaica” in a large family with limited resources and opportunity, has gone further than she could have dreamed, thanks to the generosity of the K-State family. And she’s not done, yet. Her plans are to achieve her graduate degree in social work then assist internationally displaced persons acquire the skills needed to successfully navigate their new environment. She is also building her grant-writing skills on behalf of a nonprofit she co-founded, Garlands Community, Inc., which provides scholarships, school supplies and textbooks to primary and high school students in her hometown near Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Ann-Marie Kennedy is already paying it forward on a global scale and shows no signs of slowing her pace. She has more dreams to make true for herself and so many others.
“Because of my K-State education, my story didn’t end in the military; I am still dreaming and pursuing education,” Ann-Marie said. “I feel privileged that I could have a university education and to have experienced so much. People have been so generous to me — someone they didn’t know. Those scholarships encouraged me; they acknowledged my efforts.”