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Updated: August 16, 2021 / 40 Under Forty, Class of 2021

40 Under Forty 2021: Jessika Zequeira

Photo | Erika Sidor Jessika Zequeira
Photo | Erika Sidor 40 Under Forty, Class of 2021 members (from left) Kat Stevens, LMHC, Shaun McDonough, Jessika Zequeira and Joanne M. Fowling at The Strand movie theater in Clinton (Special thanks to Rob Nierintz)
Jessika Zequeira, 39
  • Title Community education specialist
  • Company Shine Initiative, in Worcester
  • Residence Worcester
  • Birthplace Danbury, Conn.
Click here to read about the other 40 Under Forty, Class of 2021
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At the Shine Initiative, Jessika Zequeira offers mental health and suicide prevention workshops to teens, educators, and parents.

During her time with Shine, the nonprofit has grown from 30 to 50 schools in the last two and a half years. She helped develop the annual Student Mental Health Summits where speakers and workshops address in-depth mental health topics chosen by students. The last in-person summit had 250 students participating. Outside of her work with Shine, Zequeira is just as committed to mental health as she contributes extensively to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. When she took on planning the Central Massachusetts Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention in 2012, she did not take that responsibility lightly. That year, the walk had 250 participants and raised $25,000. Seven years later, as the chair of the program, she brought in 1,000 walkers and $155,000 in donations. She planned and executed one of AFSP’s major fundraising events, a beer and wine tasting at Fenway Park, which raised more than $100,000 for the first time in 2016. In 2020, when Shine had to cancel its gala fundraiser, Zequeira helped switch to a virtual event and still raised $80,000.

What Olympic sport would you be the best at? I would make a much better judge than a competitor!

What’s the nicest thing anyone has done for you? When I was 16 years old, I lost my best friend to suicide and had no idea how to deal with the unique grief accompanying such a loss. We had shared an English class together, and that teacher recognized the struggle I was having. For every assignment she gave the class that year, she allowed me to write whatever I needed to work through my pain, anger and confusion. That loss is a driving force in the work that I do, and her response was instrumental in the beginning of my healing process.

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