Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Reenita Shepherd, a woman whose own odyssey has inspired her children and her community. She is the mother of Nicholas Shepherd, a 6th grade Odyssey Scholar.

Reenita grew up in the Mississippi foster care system. Throughout her childhood, she was placed in seventeen different foster homes. In between her placements she sometimes spent time in jails and juvenile detention centers. She was placed there not because she had broken laws, but because at that time Mississippi had no safe places or group homes for foster children on the waiting list. Reenita concludes, “It was during these difficult years that I promised myself and the Lord that I would devote my life to helping children.”

It was that promise and her internal need to help and provide love for children that led her to welcome foster children into her home in 2013. Currently, Reenita has three foster children as well as her four biological children. “I love them all,” Reenita says fondly.

Her oldest daughter graduated Summa Cum Laude from West Georgia and is now a corrections officer, while her middle daughter graduated from Spelman College and Clayton State and attends Yale on a full MS/Ph.D. scholarship. Nicholas is Reenita’s third biological child who we know from Odyssey while her fourth, Cayleigh, is applying to Odyssey this year. 

Nicholas was nominated by his 4th grade teacher at Bethune Elementary and attends Jonesboro Middle School. Although the trip from Jonesboro is a long drive, Reenita insists the opportunity that Odyssey provides is worth it, “Nicholas loves everything about Odyssey and it has given him great confidence starting in 4th grade. He loves being with smart kids. He loves his teachers. He loves the field trips and learning new things.”

Reenita goes on to say, “Nick’s teachers at Jonesboro were amazed how much Odyssey put him ahead, so much so that they wanted him to skip a grade and go straight into 7th grade.” Although they were flattered, it was decided that was not the best choice for Nicholas. She describes Nick as a “Rock Star” at Jonesboro. He’s president of Beta Club, plays basketball, takes karate, sings in their church choir, and volunteers at Trinity Drug Rehabilitation Center.

Nick’s summer doesn’t end with Odyssey, he will be off to Greece and Italy with his middle school gifted program right after Odyssey ends, then will be attending a Junior Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. Reenita states that Nick’s summer activities could not have been possible without the support of her church and her community.

Odyssey has also touched Reenita’s children who do not attend the summer program. Through Odyssey’s connection to Most Valuable Kids, her foster children were able to attend their first-ever professional basketball game, “It was a great treat!”

Reenita closes with a bit of advice for other parents who may be interested in Odyssey, “Odyssey is an awesome program for teaching children who want to learn but it is not for everybody. If your child is motivated, curious, and has a love of learning, they will thrive at Odyssey. I cannot think of another program that operates on the high level that Odyssey does. If you and your child are committed, it is a life changing-program!”

If you would like to support families like Reenita’s consider donating to Odyssey here.