The Day – A love of animals helped a Ledyard High School grad pursue a legal career
Ledyard – Elaina Jantzi admits that high school wasn’t the most enjoyable experience for her at first, but in her senior year she started making more friends, coming out of her shell, and meet what she described as “her people”.
Jantzi, 18, is one of 194 students graduating from Ledyard High School on June 17. The Gallup Hill Road resident faced challenges forming friendships with people.
Her mother, Hilary, said she noticed something was wrong with her daughter when she was in primary school. “The therapists initially thought Elaina had anxiety issues, but we never saw that,” she said. “She was always the happiest child. My earliest memories of her were that she always wanted to make us laugh. As she got older, however, she didn’t realize that enough was enough. With her peers, she was going too far and didn’t ‘I don’t know when to stop.’ In high school, it turned into depression.
Jantzi was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2020, meaning it was difficult for her to identify appropriate social lineups. “It was a difficult time socially,” she said. “I never really found a group of friends at school that I could hang out with after school, go out to eat or go to the movies.”
“Elaina was also sensitive to loud noises, so she was hesitant to go to concerts or movies,” her mother said. “I always wanted to take her to concerts, and she went to Chicago to see her favorite band at the time, BTS.”
Jantzi and her family, which includes an older sister, spent the first two years of her life in Navy housing in Groton, before moving to Omaha, Nebraska. It was in Nebraska that she developed a passion for animals, working at an animal rescue center named Roscoe’s Rescue Ranch. She also participated in equine therapy sessions during her stay.
“She used to do things like ride a horse,” Jantzi’s mother said. These were known as “trust drills”, where one learns to trust the animal and how to lead the horse.
The family moved to Ledyard in 2016, when Jantzi was 13, and her involvement with animals grew. She has volunteered at animal rescue centers such as Horses Healing Humans in Stonington and Kitty Harbor in Griswold. She was also enrolled in the Agri-Science program at Ledyard High, where as part of a school project, she taught a chicken how to maneuver a dog agility course.
“My first year in the program, everyone had to choose an animal to train. While other students chose donkeys, alpacas and sheep, I chose a chicken,” Jantzi explained with a laugh. In fact, she trained a few chickens and knitted sweaters and harnesses for them. Both did pretty well on the agility course.
It was from there that Jantzi and her family started raising chickens in the garden of their house. A chicken coop was built last year, and it currently houses seven very friendly chickens, which will sit on your lap if you let them. “These birds were raised on our laps,” Jantzi’s mother said. “They were raised in the bathroom and in our mud room, before moving to the chicken coop. They like to snuggle. They are very calm and very soothing to Elaina.”
Arrangements have been made to deter predators. The chicken coop is securely covered with sturdy chicken wire, which goes down 3 feet underground. The co-op has three trail cameras to monitor for any issues. Jantzi’s mother said the family had seen predators, including bobcats, “But the chickens will let you know if there’s trouble. Nothing but a bear or a human will get through this chicken coop.”
All of the eggs were donated to non-profit groups including the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, the Ledyard Food Pantry and Safe Futures, a New London non-profit organization that helps victims of domestic violence in the area. At present, the eggs are being sold as a fundraiser for the Christmas pajama drive organized by the Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford, where Jantzi’s parents both work.
“Animals are much easier to understand than humans,” Jantzi said. “But even though I love animals, there are a lot more problems with humans interacting with each other. I want to help resolve conflicts, whether it’s between friends, neighbors, family members or organizations .I don’t like watching people fight each other.”
That’s why the Ledyard High graduate will go to George Mason University in Virginia this fall, pursuing studies in human rights, peace and conflict, and criminal law. “What better way (to resolve disputes),” Jantzi said, “than to represent people in legal matters such as domestic disputes and child custody battles.”
His studies will include classes at the Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution on the George Mason campus, and a spring 2023 semester at the George Mason campus in South Korea. “I became interested in South Asian culture,” she said. “It’s an ancient and diverse ethnic group, and I’m interested in history, culture and traditions.”
Jantzi also became a member of the Ledyard Volunteer Fire Department, having joined in January. “It was by far the best decision of my life,” she said. “I was thinking about what more I could physically do to help not only myself socially, but also others. I saw on Facebook that the fire brigade needed volunteers, so I signed up the next day.” Once she gets her fire certificate, she will start the two-month course to become an emergency medical technician, just in time to start her university course.
On top of all that, she works weekends at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream.
“My end goal is to continue working as a firefighter, EMT, and become a lawyer,” Jantzi said. “I want to be someone who has a very neutral view of politics, because I don’t like to choose sides. I just want people to live in peace with each other and not hate each other because of their opinions or their religious opinions.”
“Elaina has definitely changed a lot this year,” her mother said. “She’s stepping out of her comfort zone now. I think she’s pretty confident about her career path. I can’t wait to see what she will do to change the world.”
Jantzi agrees. “During my senior year (at Ledyard High), I found it much easier to talk to people. I feel much better prepared than I was last year to work with people. , especially since I joined the fire department. I’m very excited now to go to university, to choose what I want to learn and to know what to do with the rest of my life.”