By: Ahmad Graves-El
An 18-year-old’s empathy and love for children with disabilities and special needs has manifested in books and speeches.
VINELAND, N.J. – Many adults in leadership positions in the world of politics, business, religion etc., have either forgotten or have purposely discarded the spiritual lessons of the Golden Rule to appease their own selfish selves. However, it is refreshing to know that there are young people throughout the world, and especially in Cumberland County, who are ready to take the reins and lead us to a brighter future.
Trinity Jagdeo, of Vineland, is one of those young people who is destined to be an inspirational leader who serves the community living by the spiritual code ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’
The 18-year-old, a recent graduate of Cumberland Christian School, is CEO of the nonprofit organization, From We Can’t to We Can, which she created to assist children with disabilities and special needs. In doing so, Jagdeo is already in the process of inspiring a considerable number of people in our area and beyond.
“I started this nonprofit organization in the summer of 2018,” Jagdeo says. “I was inspired by my best friend Alexus who has spinal muscular atrophy.”
According to curesma.org, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) “is a disease that robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat, or breathe. It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants.”
“The moment that made me really want to start [the organization] was when we (she and Alexus) were in the hospital,” says Jagdeo, who as an eighth-grader, visited Alexus nearly every day after school. “She was in the hospital for about six months to a year with a disease [that was basically] … making her body kill itself.
“One day we were sitting in the hospital and we were looking at TV, but there wasn’t much entertainment,” she continues. “We did everything we could do together in the hospital bed. [The nurses] brought in movies, anything she wanted to watch, but there was nothing inspiring or entertaining to her. [Then] it … dawned on me that there was no representation of [children] with disabilities in the entertainment industry. There’s no Disney princess with disabilities. There’s no Disney prince with disabilities or special needs or anything like that.”
After this eye-opening discovery, Jagdeo attempted to contact The Walt Disney Company, via social media, to inform them of this void.
“I made a YouTube video and it got about 7,000 views, but it didn’t hit Disney,” she says. “I wrote a letter to Disney, too. We boosted the post and did everything that we could [to no avail].”
Although she was disappointed at the popular company’s lack of response— “It didn’t get the hype that I thought it could or should have gotten”—Jagdeo took divergent paths in attempts to get her message across.
“I was trying to figure out things that I wanted to do. [Then] I had a little epiphany and I started writing motivational speeches,” Jagdeo recalls. “But there was a turning point [last year] when I really knew that I had to get out there and start representing. So, July of 2018, I decided to create the nonprofit, From We Can’t to We Can.”
The name From We Can’t to We Can was conceived to symbolize a change for the better and isn’t just an inconsequential, catchy phrase.
“I wanted to shift society’s mindset and I wanted to show that our organization is trying to shift society’s stereotypes on people with disabilities and special needs,” Jagdeo explains. “I wanted to show transformation: Those that think ‘we can’t’ we show that ‘we can.’”
Jagdeo figured that a good way to alter the paradigm of how society thinks about and treats people with disabilities and special needs was to insert herself into the entertainment industry.
“I’d like to say that I’m pretty decent at drawing so … step one was to make a book,” Jagdeo reveals.
Her first book, which she got published through Amazon, is based on someone she knew with special needs.
“I had a friend in fifth grade … and she had Down syndrome,” says Jagdeo. “I would sit with her during choir, and I would sing with her because no one really wanted to sit down and sing with her because she was different. So, Alice the Ace is my first book and I was inspired by her to create Alice.
“[It] took me about four months to make. I draw everything and I make sure that everything [is just right] because I don’t want to give anybody some rushed, quick job. I do everything to the best of my ability. I’m still learning. I’m still trying to figure out how I can make [things] better.”
Even though Jagdeo is still learning, Alice the Ace turned out to be a success and the money she raised from selling the book was used for a great cause.
“We sold out of our books our first time [we attempted to sell them],” says Jagdeo. “I sold them at my school. We had 15 books on the table, and we sold out of them within a couple of hours. Once we sell the books, we donate 100 percent of [the profits] to someone who’s in need.”
The money she raised was used to help pay for her best friend Alexus’ wheelchair.
Alexus’ parents, Rebecca and Edward Dick, are grateful for Jagdeo’s generous gesture.
“A few months back, we found out that in order for Alexus to receive the wheelchair that she needed, we would have to pay a large amount out of pocket,” Rebecca says. “Trinity did not hesitate. She wanted to know what was needed to make it happen and was already planning what to do. In the blink of an eye, … she called to say she had raised money to order the part for Alexus.
“About a month later, Alexus was able to drive her chair for the first time in five years.”
With the help of the positive response she received from Alice the Ace, Jagdeo has several more books in the making that will be highlighting children with special needs and disabilities.
“Alice the Ace was my first idea, then Zappy Zane,” says Jagdeo. “I have Radiant Rosy who has cerebral palsy. I have a brother and sister; they’re called the Victorious V’s. Victor has autism and Victoria, she’s an amputee. She doesn’t have an arm. Incredible Iris has prelingual deafness.”
Another awe-inspiring element of Jagdeo’s books is that all of the protagonists in her stories are superheroes. In a sense, Jagdeo turns the hero’s disability into an extraordinary, powerful ability.
“I did research on people with Down syndrome and I found that they do very [well] with learning off of visuals,” Jagdeo explains. “So, Alice the Ace’s superpower is drawing. Zappy Zane … has super speed because of his wheelchair and that’s how he helps save the day.”
Besides using the entertainment industry as a tool to share her message of inclusivity, Jagdeo has also been gaining recognition by speaking publicly about her organization and her cause.
“Trinity came and actually spoke to my Rotary Club (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) about … herself and the books that she produced,” says Melanie Druziako, Rotary District Office Administrator for Central and Southern New Jersey.
Jagdeo left an indelible impression on many of the attendees of the ceremony with her presentation.
“First of all, to meet a young person who can do so well with public speaking at her age, just blew me away,” says Druziako, who is also president of Tri-County VMBN (Vineland-Millville-Buena-Newfield). The most impactful thing for me about [her speech] was not so much what she had to say, but what the feeling was we were all left with and how powerful the support was [from] her family.”
“I’m all about empowering the youth, and here is this young girl—I get choked up just thinking about it—to see a young girl of her age move people … that’s what we want from our youth. She did so well. Some magic happened that night.”
While some celebrities and business people have donated their money to righteous causes for less than righteous reasons, Jagdeo’s love for children with disabilities and special needs is enduring and palpable.
“Right around the first grade, I really began to notice Trinity’s love and compassion for children with disabilities,” says Jagdeo’s mother, Angela Morrison. “At first I wasn’t sure if it was genuine because she was so small [and] I wasn’t sure if it was something that she was more curious about than compassionate about.
“However, one day we were on a school trip and I got to see first-hand the excitement and joy that Trinity felt when she saw one of the children that she had made friends with,” says Morrison, owner of Angie’s At Your Service Virtual Assistance. “The teachers would tell me that she would take her recess time to play with the children who had a special need. She would receive awards and other acclamations for going above and beyond to dedicate herself to spending time with them.”
“There’s something in my heart that automatically just completely goes soft when I see someone with a disability,” Jagdeo says. “My mom even laughs at me sometimes because I’ll see somebody in the store with a disability and I want to approach them, and I want to talk to them, and I want to play with them. But, it’s weird just to kind of go up and be like ‘Hi’ and their parents are like ‘What are you doing? We don’t know you,” she says with a laugh. “But, it’s like something … I literally feel as though like a magnet. It’s super unexplainable.”
Jagdeo’s empathy and love for children with disabilities and special needs has manifested in books and speeches, and will be on display again, on July 27 at Giampietro Park in Vineland, where her organization is holding the From We Can’t to We Can One-Year Anniversary event, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“This event not only helps raise funds for children with disabilities, but it will also raise awareness for our cause,” says Jagdeo.
The organization is sponsoring a young local boy named Darian Henderson who has a rare genetic disorder that has afflicted only 20 people in the entire world. According to Jagdeo, the disorder is so rare it hasn’t even been named yet.
The special One-Year Anniversary event is intended to be fun for children with disabilities and special needs and able-bodied kids and adults, as well.
“There’s going to be guest appearances by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Minions, Mickey Mouse, and Zappy Zane will be there to sign books,” says Jagdeo.
“I’m going to have bounce houses, vendors, [and] a sensory tent. A sensory tent is the number one attraction, I would say, for someone with special needs because it’s a [place] they can go in when they’re feeling overwhelmed [or] overstimulated. That’s their time when they can regroup.”
Jagdeo is extremely thankful that the event is being held at Giampietro Park because it is handicapped-accessible. “Everything happens for a reason,” says Jagdeo, “and we’re definitely blessed with that park.”
At such a young age, the virtuous mission Jagdeo has embarked on, like a Robert Frost poem is “ … the one less traveled by …,” which makes her efforts to help children with special needs even more spectacular to her family and friends.
“We have had the pleasure of knowing Trinity … since kindergarten,” says Alexus’ mother. “Since that time, I have had the pleasure of watching her grow into this beautiful, compassionate, caring young woman. She has always put others before herself.”
“We are very proud and impressed by her perseverance and passion,” says Morrison. “We realize that it is not easy to go against the grain of what other teens are doing. Although we have watched her struggle through deciding to follow her peers or her passion, we know that this is something that God has placed in her heart.
“We are very proud that Trinity has decided to follow her purpose.”
For more information, go to wecant2wecan.com.