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Born in the Bronx, 22-year-old Shanise Spencer, a fulltime college student, lived in Brooklyn for 17 years, growing up in several different neighborhoods, from Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights to Williamsburg and Ocean Hill. However, she considers Coney Island home.

In her family, Shanise is better known as “Lil’ Sha.” Her mother had four children – all girls – whose names start with Sha. “Since I’m the youngest, I am little Sha,” she explained.

She spent several periods of her life in foster care. One of the most impactful experiences growing up in Brooklyn was running away from home when she was about 12 years old.

“I was terrified,” she recalled. “Brooklyn seemed so huge and scary to me – everything from the transit system to the people, trees, the playgrounds and the snow. It seemed so immense.”

Living in Brooklyn puts her sense of empathy into overdrive.

“Constantly seeing homeless people, drug addicts and just unfortunate people in general has definitely contributed to my giving heart. I’m not sure if that counts as change, but I was definitely influenced by it,” Shanise said.

Now she has her own apartment. But she admits he COVID-19 pandemic almost pushed her over the edge: “I lost my job and my benefits and almost flunked out of school,” she recalled.

Shanise lost her job working at a restaurant near her school after the statewide lockdown. Several weeks later, she landed a job sanitizing MTA busses. Her graveyard shift ended at 4:00am and then would have to get home in time to log on for an early morning class.

“That job was taxing on my body, wearing full hazmat gear,” she said.

Plus, it was dangerous. She feared contracting the virus. Even though it paid more than twice what she earned at the restaurant, Shanise felt that it wasn’t worth risking her life, so she quit.

“I think what scared me the most was the unknown when it came to COVID-19 – not knowing if my friends and loved ones who got infected would pull through,” she said. “I think it scared me because everywhere you turned you heard another story of a death. People lost whole families in a matter of weeks. I knew the same could happen to me.”

As time went on, Shanise let go of her anxiety about the future.

She said, “I decided to focus more time on letting things be and doing the things I enjoy while I still have the time. I’ve been more laid back and free.”

In her family, Shanise is better known as “lil Sha.” Her mother had four children – all girls – whose names start with Sha. “Since I’m the youngest, I am little Sha,” she explained.

She spent several periods of her life in foster care. One of the most impactful experiences growing up in Brooklyn was running away from home when she was about 12 years old.

“I was terrified,” she recalled. “Brooklyn seemed so huge and scary to me – everything from the transit system to the people, trees, the playgrounds and the snow. It seemed so immense.”

Living in Brooklyn puts her sense of empathy into overdrive.

“Constantly seeing homeless people, drug addicts and just unfortunate people in general has definitely contributed to my giving heart. I’m not sure if that counts as change, but I was definitely influenced by it,” Shanise said.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed Shanise, who now has her own apartment, to the edge. “I lost my job and my benefits and almost flunked out of school,” she recalled.

Shanise was working at a restaurant near her school when the statewide lockdown order came. Indeed, restaurant employees were among the hardest hit workers during at the height of the pandemic. Unemployed caused her to panic. Fortunately, Shanise had some savings tucked away but feared it would run out.

Several weeks later, she landed a job sanitizing MTA busses. Her graveyard shift ended at 4 a.m. and then would have to get home in time to logon for an early morning class. “That job was taxing on my body, wearing full hazmat gear,” she said.

Plus, it was dangerous. She feared contracting the virus. Even though it paid more than twice what she earned at the restaurant, Shanise felt that it wasn’t worth risking her life, so she quit.

“I think what scared me the most was the unknown when it came to COVID-19 – not knowing if my friends and loved ones who got infected would pull through,” she said. “I think it scared me because everywhere you turned you heard another story of a death. People lost whole families in a matter of weeks. I knew the same could happen to me.”

As time went on, Shanise let go of her anxiety about the future.

“I decided to focus more time on letting things be and doing the things I enjoy while I still have the time,” she said. “I’ve been more laid back and free.”

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