HARTLAND (WITI) — Jessica Yost was a student athlete at Arrowhead High School — and a FOX6 High School Hot Shot! What makes her stand out is her deep desire to make a difference in the world.
Yost was a star on the Arrowhead High School’s golf team. In October of 2013, she helped lead the Warhawks to the Division 1 Girls State Championship!
17-year-old Yost will eventually take her talent to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“(The Arrowhead girl’s golf team) had so much success this year that we are just so thankful for — and then to end it with that state title, that was just the icing on the cake,” Yost said.
Yost’s golf career is noteworthy, but it’s just a small piece of the special young woman’s story. It’s a story that spans from Wisconsin all the way to South Africa!
“When I was 13 and in eighth grade, my mom’s friend was the director of a children’s home — Open Arms Home for Children in South Africa, and she invited us to come visit her. We decided — why not do it for the adventure? And we ended up really falling in love with the kids,” Yost said.
The home provides love and security to children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic in South Africa.
Over time, Yost says she developed a special bond with the youngsters, and she’s been returning ever since.
In fact, she’s just back from her 10-week internship.
Open Arms was started by a man from Arizona — seven years ago. There are 57 kids there now — ages six months to 16 years. They are in dire need of open arms.
“They are all impacted by the AIDS pandemic. None of them have AIDS. Two are HIV positive. All of them have either lost their parents due to AIDS or AIDS-related diseases, abandoned, some are in jail. Basically, their parents just cannot take care of them anymore,” Yost said.
Yost is the first to tell you her life will never be the same.
“I just started to realize that material things aren’t really the things that matter. It’s how these people are suffering — with nothing. I can’t even describe to you how close I am with these kids. I really consider them my brothers and sisters. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them. I think that they just permanently — they always will have a place in my heart,” Yost said.
Yost says there’s an extreme divide between the rich and the poor. Houses with roofs made of tinfoil shacks, kids running around looking for their next meal, and yet…
“It’s so sad, but at the same time, the people are so kind and they are so great that they don’t let it get to them. Really, they could care less what they live in. They have a strong sense of community, which will always be the number one focus of their culture,” Yost said.
And a major focus of Yost’s life. The golfer in her is aware of numbers — but none are more important now than 15:30.
“In 2010 when I visited the home, there were 31 children. The statistic then was every 30 seconds a child was orphaned by AIDS. I had to do a project for school about my trip, and I started to base my project around this. Since it was 31 children, it totaled to be 15 minutes and 30 seconds worth of children orphaned by AIDS. I kind of will always say 15 minutes and 30 seconds changed my life,” Yost said.
Yost’s 15:30 project — a non-profit organization she started four years ago has raised over $30,000 to help the children break the cycle of poverty through education.
She wants to model her life after the late South African President, Nelson Mandela.
“He is just someone I have always looked up to — from educational reform, from the AIDS pandemic and everything that he’s done for that. And also just his humbleness — and how he was able to forgive, instead of holding up all that resentment from the apartheid movement. I love him. I love everything that he stands for. He is someone who is definitely just a common man, but at the same time, he was able to just kind of take over this leadership role and literally change a country – and to say the least, everyone knows I am a huge Mandela fan – and he is just someone that I will model my life upon,” Yost said.
CLICK HERE for details on Yost’s 15:30 project.