First-Gen Grad Gives Back

Associate city prosecutor adds significant volunteer work to demanding job and single parenthood
Jesse Sendejas

A mentor’s suggestion sent Jesse Sendejas (B.L.A. ’03, J.D. ’05) on the road to law school and a career dedicated to criminal justice in Kansas City, Missouri. Despite her demanding schedule, she finds time to volunteer in the community.

Sendejas worked at a doctors’ office during her first couple years of college at UMKC. When the practice split, she spent time with the attorneys who worked on the establishment of one of the doctor’s new practice. While observing Sendejas’s interaction with the team, her boss suggested her future career path.

“She asked me what I was planning to do, and I said I was interested in business,” Sendejas said. “She said, ‘I think law school would be a good idea for you.’ Even though I knew I wanted to go to college because I wanted a career, I didn’t know anyone personally who was an attorney growing up. But after her suggestion, I hit the ground running. Within six months I had taken the LSAT.”

Following graduation, Sendejas pursued civic work. Over time, she joined the Kansas City Prosecutor’s office. Shortly after, she began to pursue volunteer opportunities.

“After I started my permanent position with the City of Kansas City, I wanted to do more volunteering in the community, so I started volunteering at Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Kansas City and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association Young Lawyer's Section, Public Service Committee.”

Her volunteer work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters led to a long-term relationship with her Little Sister, Jasmine, who is now an adult. Sendejas was a critical component of emotional and physical support of Jasmine through high school, including taking her to school when Jasmine’s mother was unavailable. She helped Jasmine apply and get accepted to college.

“Based on my experiences as a first-gen law student, I remembered how hard it was to do all of that alone and not know what resources were available. Probably subconsciously, that is why I have always wanted to mentor kids. I’ve seen the positive impact just a little encouragement can do. I wanted Jasmine to know that she could go to college – and a college away from home.”

The two are still in touch, even though Jasmine is in her early twenties.

Her volunteer work with the KCMBA has been equally rewarding.

“I volunteered and attended meetings for a few years until I became the co-vice chair of the committee. Then I worked my way up in the KCMBA leadership.”

Over the years, she’s found that KCMBA makes valuable contributions to the community, as well as connecting attorneys from all practice areas, and working for justice in the legal system.

“I think all of that is important to promote and be involved in,” she said. “In addition, being able to connect with attorneys I otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to has really helped me both in my career and on a personal level.”

Recently, she has collaborated with other KCMBA members at large at the board’s annual, “Board Forward.”

“Board Forward is our annual board meeting. We don’t ‘retreat.’ We move forward,” she said. “This year we worked with different sections of the organization to see if proposed ideas were feasible. And, if they were, how we could make them happen.”

One proposed project was to see if the organization could provide free first year memberships for recent law school graduates.

“We were able to make this happen for first year graduates by restructuring fees for all members.”

Outcomes like this are satisfying and keep Sendejas involved despite her busy schedule as a single parent.

“Being an attorney is hard work and at times extremely stressful, so being able to step away from that stress and see the joy you can bring to others is so fulfilling.  And now that I am a single mother, I want to be a good example for my son and hope he will do the same one day.”

Sendejas loves Kansas City and being able to make a difference has always provided her joy. 

“I like the collaborative work that we do here,” she says. “I like helping people figure out the solutions to their problems and get back on track. It’s always interesting, because every person is different in the challenges they’re facing and what they need to address them.”

There are days when Sendejas is frustrated with a case’s outcome, but she has confidence in the system. Her relationships with her colleagues often provide insight.

“Our judges are thoughtful and willing to share their perspectives. I’ve been in the prosecutor’s office for more than ten years, so I’ve established good relationships. It’s helpful for me to understand their process.”

The job is demanding, and there are times when there is more need than the time to address it. But Sendejas’s commitment is significant.

“I love my job,” she says. “It’s very demanding, and we have a lot of cases going on at all times, but there is reward at the end of each case knowing that you’ve helped someone. It may be the defendant or the victim – or both – but to help someone get on the right path and seeing that kind of work through to the finale and making sure justice is served is satisfying.”

She is aware that defense attorneys may hear more success stories and receive client appreciation, but she does hear success stories.

“A lot of people just make mistakes, like getting too many traffic tickets, and these are not reasons to ruin someone’s career or impede their ability to get a job. There needs to be consequences, but it’s not necessary to ruin their whole life.

Sometimes I get a call from a victim letting me know that the process was helpful for them, or that their concerns were addressed. That is the most rewarding feedback.”

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Published: Jun 30, 2022

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