Shaina Finkel likely didn’t know at the ripe old age of 6 that one day she would be taking her place on a national stage for a group that’s primary mission is to save lives.
But that’s exactly what happened on July 28, when the Wiregrass Ranch High School student was sworn in as the national student president for Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).
Her selection was celebrated during a national news conference, which took place at Wiregrass Ranch High School and was streamed by SADD’s social media channels.
One of the key speakers at the event was Greg Finkel, the adviser for the SADD chapter since Wiregrass Ranch High opened. He’s Shaina’s dad.
“We do it to save lives,” said Finkel, who has been the adviser of the Wiregrass chapter since it began in 2008.
The chapter’s T-shirts have a Superman logo on the front and words on the back that say: “How to save a life.”
His pride in his daughter’s accomplishment was palpable, as he struggled, occasionally, to maintain his composure.
She was just a little girl, he said, when she asked if she could come along to a chapter meeting.
Finkel thought to himself: Why not?
She became a regular, and even at that early age, she was a leader, he said.
Whether the chapter was working with young kids or the elderly, he said, “she took over.”
As she grew older, she became even more involved.
At one point, she asked Finkel if he thought she could become chapter president.
He said he didn’t see why not, but they would have to see about it when she got to high school.
Shaina became president of the Wiregrass chapter during her sophomore year, and now, as a rising senior, she is entering her third year in that role.
Last year, though, she told Finkel: “Dad, I would like to see if we can go a little bit further.
“And,” he added, “here we are.
Kids today face greater pressures
Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning joined in the celebration.
“This is a big deal. This is a very big deal, isn’t it?” Browning said, adding he understands that today’s students are under a great deal of pressure.
“It was way different 45 years ago, when I graduated from Pasco High School,” the superintendent said. It was different, too, he added, when his sons, who are now in their 30s, graduated.
The leadership, exhibited by Shaina, and other officers in Wiregrass’ SADD chapter, “goes a far distance in encouraging students to make great choices in their lives,” Browning said.
SADD president and CEO Rick Birt conducted the swearing-in ceremony, as Shaina became student president of an organization with 7,500 chapters nationwide.
“Today, we honor your community, we honor your chapter, we honor the resilience and the compassion of one remarkable young woman as she assumes a new leadership role,” Birt said.
“As the national president, she will serve as our key spokesperson, representing SADD in the media,” he said.
She also will help advise and guide the organization in its programming and structure, while working closely with SADD staff, students, advisers, partners and stakeholders across the country, he said.
Shaina said she applied for the role because she was looking “to bring the amazing work that my chapter does to a new level. I wanted them to be in the spotlight. I think we work so incredibly hard here, to make change, to really empower students and I just thought that needed to go to a new level.”
She said she saw the application for the position on social media.
“With little hesitation, I went ahead and I applied. It really was a shot in the dark,” Shaina said.
“To me, SADD is very much an opportunity. It is an opportunity to be more than yourself. To help others. To help the community.
“It gives you the opportunity to connect with others who have the same mindsets and the same goals and aspirations, that you have,” she said.
Helping students find a place they belong
She sees the organization as a way to tackle issues and to play an important role in the lives of others.
“I believe many high schoolers, and middle schoolers for that matter — they’re very lost. They don’t know their group of people. It’s very hard to find a group of people that believes the same things as you.
“So, SADD allows for students across the nation to come together and find each other … to be able to work together, to make incredible changes,” she said.
The past year brought many obstacles, she said. But, she added, the students and adults involved with SADD “are so ready to adapt and be able to change on a dime, to keep helping students.”
Shaina wants to make mental health a key priority.
“There is such a negative stigma that surrounds having a mental illness. You walk around campus and nobody really sees it, but if you really just tune in and think about it, there are so many students who are right next to us who are struggling. They are suffering. And, they feel alone because they’re too embarrassed to go and speak out about what they’re feeling,” she said.
That’s because, she said, “they don’t realize there is someone right next to them who has, or does, feel the same way.”
SADD wants “to show kids that they’re not alone and to touch those topics that most people try to avoid because they are uncomfortable topics,” she said.
Published August 04, 2021