DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD RECIPIENT
Jay began his education at Mariemont High School and went on to Amherst College, where he traveled with the Amherst choir in 1972 on his first trip to Africa. After graduation, he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire. After serving two years as a teacher and an additional two years as Peace Corps’ Regional Representative, he moved to Kinshasa, the country’s capital to work briefly for an American construction company, then returned to the United Sates to attend graduate school in Linguistics. He obtained a masters degree in 1985 as well as a Fulbright grant to return to the Congo and do research on the Lunda language spoken in the southern part of the country. He finished his doctoral thesis on this language in 1992 and returned again to the Congo to work for Catholic Relief ices (CRS) on a nutrition project. CRS subsequently stationed him first to Angola, then to the Dominican Republic. In 1998, upon hearing that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was reopening an office in the Congo, he applied successfully to become USAID’s Regional Representative in southern Congo. When war broke out later in the year, he joined the humanitarian branch of the organization where he remained until retirement in November of 2021.
While working for USAID, Jay founded, on the side, a charity for children and youth with physical disabilities named StandProud. Since its beginnings in 1999,this charity has provided leg braces and other orthopedic equipment and services free of charge to over 5000 young beneficiaries who, due to legs paralyzed by polio or other afflictions, were either forced to crawl on the ground or limp very awkwardly. The braces enable the beneficiaries to walk upright with dignity, and reduces the extent to which they are mocked and marginalized by the rest of Congolese society. StandProud also pays the school fees for school-age beneficiaries so they can develop their minds like other children in regular public schools (school not being free in the Congo and these children’s parents being generally too poor to finance their education).
In 2018, Jay was recognized for his efforts towards providing educational and vocational opportunities for young people with disabilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He received InterAction's Disability Inclusion Award in Washington, DC, which acknowledges individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the world's most poor and vulnerable people. Jay is a champion for all – a fighter ensuring that a polio victim – or any person affected with a disability-- is given a real chance as a social equal, for an education, and to be a productive and respected member of a community.