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    Sunday, September 24, 2023

    Love of animals helped Ledyard High School grad pursue legal career

    Ledyard High School senior Elaina Jantzi holds one of her backyard chickens, Curiosity, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at her family's home. The chickens are all named for NASA space missions, except for one, which is named after a comet. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Ledyard — Elaina Jantzi admits high school had not been the most pleasant experience for her at first, but by her senior year she began making more friends, coming out of her shell and meeting what she described as "her people."

    Jantzi, 18, is one of the 194 students who graduated from Ledyard High School on June 17. The Gallup Hill Road resident has had to deal with difficulties in forming friendships with people.

    Her mother, Hilary, said she noticed something wasn't quite right with her daughter when she was in elementary school. "Therapists first thought Elaina had anxiety issues, but we never saw that," she said. "She was always the happiest kid. My first memories of her was she always wanted to make us laugh. As she got older, though, she didn't understand that enough is enough. With her peers, she would go overboard and didn't know when to stop. In high school, it transitioned into depression."

    Jantzi was diagnosed in 2020 with autism spectrum disorder, meaning it was difficult for her to identify appropriate social queues. "It was an iffy time socially," she said. "I never really found a group of friends at school that I could associate with after school, or go out to eat or to a movie."

    "Elaina also was sensitive to loud noises, so she was hesitant to go to concerts or movies," said her mother. "I always wanted to take her to concerts, and she did go to Chicago to see her favorite group 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 they moved to Omaha, Nebraska. It was in Nebraska that she developed a love of animals, working at an animal rescue facility named Roscoe's Rescue Ranch. She also participated in equine therapy sessions while there.

    "She would do things like riding horses backwards," Jantzi's mother said. These were known as "trust exercises," where one learns to trust the animal and to lead the horse.

    The family moved to Ledyard in 2016, when Jantzi was 13, and her involvement with animals grew. She volunteered at animal rescue facilities such as Horses Healing Humans in Stonington and Kitty Harbor in Griswold. She also was enrolled in the Agri-Science program at Ledyard High, where, as a school project, she taught a chicken how to maneuver a dog agility course.

    "My junior 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. She actually trained a couple of chickens, and knitted sweaters and harnesses for them. Both did pretty well on the agility course.

    It was from here that Jantzi and her family started raising chickens in the backyard of their home. A chicken coop was built last year, and it currently houses seven very friendly chickens, who will sit in your lap if you let them. "These birds have been raised in our laps," Jantzi's mother said. "They were raised in the bathroom and in our mud room, before moving to the coop. They like to snuggle. They're very calm and very calming for Elaina."

    Provisions have been made to deter predators. The coop is securely covered in sturdy chicken wire, which goes 3 feet underground. The coop has three trail cameras to monitor any problems. Jantzi's mother said the family has seen predators, including bobcats, "But the chickens will let you know if there's trouble. Nothing except a bear or human will get through that coop."

    All eggs have been donated to nonprofit groups, including the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, the Ledyard Food Pantry and Safe Futures, a nonprofit in New London that assists victims of domestic violence in the region. Right now, the eggs are being sold as a fundraiser for the Christmas Pajama Drive run by the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, where  Jantzi's parents both work.

    "Animals are a lot easier to understand than humans," Jantzi said. "But as much as I love animals, there's 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 one another."

    That's why the Ledyard High grad will be attending George Mason University in Virginia this fall, pursuing studies in human rights, peace and conflict, and criminal law. "What better way (to resolve conflicts)," Jantzi said, "than to represent people in legal matters such as domestic conflicts and child custody battles."

    Her 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've been interested in South Asian culture," she said. "It's an old and diverse group of ethnic people, and I'm interested in history, culture, and traditions."

    Jantzi also has become a member of the Ledyard Volunteer Fire Department, having joined in January. "This has been the best decision of my life by far," she said. "I was thinking about what more I could physically do to help not just myself socially, but other people too. I saw on Facebook the fire department needed volunteers, so I signed up the next day." Once she gets her fire certification, she'll start the two-month course to become an Emergency Medical Technician, just in time to begin her college classes.

    On top of all this, she works weekends at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream.

    "My end goal is to continue work as a firefighter, EMT and to become a lawyer," Jantzi said. "I want to be someone who has a very neutral view on politics, as I don't like choosing sides. I just want people to live peacefully with each other, and to not hate each other because of their opinions or religious views."

    "Elaina's definitely changed a lot this year," said her mother. "She's now pushing herself out of her comfort zone. I think she's pretty confident of her career path. I can't wait to see what she'll do to change the world."

    Jantzi agrees. "In my senior year (at Ledyard High) I've found it's a lot easier to talk to people. I feel a lot more prepared than I did last year to work with people, especially since I joined the fire department. I'm very excited now to go to college, to choose what I want to learn, and figure out what to do with the rest of my life."

    Ledyard High School senior Elaina Jantzi holds two of her backyard chickens, Prosperity, left, and Spirit, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at her family's home. The chickens are all named for NASA space missions, except for one, which is named after a comet. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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