Photo/Courtesy of Shenise Daughtry
What started as an effort to get her son excited about school and reading has transformed into a community-wide literacy project. "Literacy was important for me to grow, and I wanted to make sure it was important to him by teaching him the fundamentals," Shenise Daughtry said. Now, Shenise is paving the way for the youth in the U.S. Virgin Islands to develop lifelong skills through literacy.
Born and raised in St. Thomas, Shenise reminisced about her childhood and the exciting experiences she is grateful to have had. Going fishing and riding her bike with her father were among her favorite memories.
A lover of sports, Shenise also tried her hand at several sports, from tennis to track and field to volleyball. Although she appreciates the unique aspects of each sport she played, she dove into tennis after witnessing Venus and Serena Williams' rise. It's a recreational sport she still enjoys with her family to this day.
Pursuing a Life of Service
Shenise started thinking about where her studies would take her during high school. Although she enjoyed sports, she was more captivated by the gripping, law-inspired series she saw on television.
The admittingly opinionated young woman was initially interested in immigration law because she wanted to help people and broaden her perspective of different cultures. Shenise sought guidance from her attorney mentor, who recommended that she major in something she was passionate about instead of pre-law. Besides, she would have ample time to study law in law school. At the advice of her mentor, Shenise changed her major to international relations and economic development. This satisfied her interest in exploring and understanding different cultures and people.
During her undergraduate studies, Shenise balanced a full-course load and community service projects at the University of Delaware. Even though she felt a bit burned out juggling both, her community service efforts helped Shenise realize that she wanted to serve others, but in a different capacity than she had initially imagined. This led Shenise to a Master's in Public Administration and Non-Profit Service at Georgia Southern University.
After grad school, the young public servant held various roles, including a Mentor Coordinator Support Assistant at AmeriCorps, a Program Director for Meeting Ground, a non-profit organization that serves families and individuals experiencing homelessness, and a Legislative Coordinator at the Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands. She also became a mom along the way.
Birth of The Book Spot
Her son's entrance into kindergarten was a significant milestone for Shenise's family, one she had hoped would be fun and filled with social interactions. Instead, he was starting kindergarten behind a computer screen.
Like many parents, Shenise witnessed the challenges her son and his peers faced in a remote learning environment due to the pandemic. Teachers and students were struggling to adapt. The mother of two did her best to help her children navigate their new normal. But when her 6-year-old son told her that he did not like school or reading, she knew she had to take matters into her own hands.
"I realized I couldn't leave it up to the experts anymore. It's not that they weren't able or capable, but I started to realize that it really took a village, and I needed to be a part of it."
Unaware of where the journey would take her, Shenise started. Her actions gave birth to The Book Spot, an online bookstore aimed at making reading fun and exciting for young children. The Book Spot offers curated theme-based book boxes that include gifts, activities, and special surprises for children ages three to five. Since the launch in 2021, she has expanded to creating book boxes for children up to 12 years old and self-care themed book boxes for adults.
Community Literacy Programs
The mom-turned-literacy advocate is hyper-focused on supporting literacy in her community. As brick-and-mortar businesses started to re-open their doors, she contacted a local ice cream shop to pitch an idea for an event that linked National Ice Cream Day to literacy. The owner was thrilled with her proposal, which led to a community initiative that rewarded children with a cool treat of ice cream when they read a book at the ice cream shop.
Since then, Shenise has partnered with the Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Care Centers to promote literacy in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She created 183 book boxes for the DHS's Child Care Centers in St. Thomas and St. John. This program has since expanded to St. Croix.
What's next? Shenise would like to continue to help build confidence in children through literacy. Her goal is to someday partner with local schools, libraries, and community centers across the Virgin Islands to provide interactive storytelling.
Before she embarked on this journey, Shenise believed that she had to have a degree in something or that she needed to be an expert in an area to pursue it. But life is all about learning, as an expert was once a novice. "I learned to show up as my best self and get the work done," she said. By doing so, she discovered new and creative ways to get children in her community excited about reading.