PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. – “Giving back to my community has always been important to me,” the young lady said with a smile.
In January 2019, she founded “URNOTFORGOTEN Inc.,” a non-profit dedicated to providing birthday celebration supplies to foster children. Since the organization was founded, 300 children have received a birthday celebration box complete with banners, plates, napkins, cups, as well as a small toy or gift card.
“I think it’s important to celebrate making another trip around the world each year,” said Shalarie Highsmith, 45th Force Support Squadron deputy chief of education and training. “I chose foster kids because, unfortunately, that is often a forgotten about population. They experience so much transition in their lives and they often don’t get to celebrate their birthdays because they’re always moving around.”
During the pandemic, she organized food distribution events in her hometown of Cocoa, Florida, that helped feed more than 2,000 families. She has also served as a sexual assault victim advocate, counselor, professor and as a member of the National Congress of Black Women.
Highsmith, 38, was honored with one of LEAD Brevard’s ‘4 Under 40’ Awards Feb. 11, becoming just the second person from Patrick SFB to take the honor since 2005.
The award recognizes “the next generation of leadership under the age of 40, who are making a positive impact in Brevard County through their commitment to community and their profession,” said Kristin Bakke, LEAD Brevard president and CEO.
Highsmith’s boss, Mark Watford, 45th Force Support Squadron chief of education and training, nominated her for the award.
“Shalarie is a remarkable person, a leader and a role model,” he said. “She always asks herself ‘What else can I do’ to help others. Over the past year, she processed more than 1,500 tuition assistance enrollments, which provided more than $1 million of funding for service members. She has also served as sexual assault victim advocate and she’s been very involved in her community.”
Involved may be an understatement.
Highsmith has served as the outreach coordinator for her church for three years. During that timeframe, she has organized clothing drives to support 250 homeless families. She has also provided mental health counseling services to help people overcome trauma and organized voter registration events.
Since 2015, Highsmith has processed more than 8,000 tuition assistance enrollments worth more than $6 million, according to Patrick SFB Education Center records. She has also facilitated dozens of education briefings for service members, their families and civilian employees.
“It’s a priority for me to make a difference in as many lives as I can,” Highsmith said. “I have been blessed in so many ways and so many people have impacted my life.”
The person who impacted her life the most, Highsmith said, was her mother.
“I was raised by a single mother and at one time, she worked three jobs just to make ends meet,” Highsmith said. “Being in that situation, at times we had to sacrifice things others wouldn’t such as birthday or Christmas celebrations.”
Watching her mother work so hard for her family had a profound influence on Highsmith, she said.
“My mother is my superhero,” she said. “She taught me how to make the best of every situation. Just because we are in a difficult situation doesn’t mean that has to be our final destination. She inspired me to do all I can to help people.”
Highsmith graduated from high school in 2001 and earned a bachelor’s in psychology in 2005 from the University of Central Florida. In 2007, she earned a masters in counseling and psychology from the University of West Alabama. She became a mother in November 2012.
“I don’t need accolades for all the things I have done,” Highsmith said, “but it was good to be acknowledged and recognized for having an impact in the community that has given so much to me.”
Highsmith plans to continue serving her community and hopes to inspire others.
“I want to be an example for young women who have overcome as many hardships as I have, if not more, and never lost hope,” she said. “I also want to be an example to my son and show him it’s not always about you, it’s about the service you give to others.”