Nearly 30 high school youth and seniors from the area met on Wednesday, Aug.24 to kick off the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce’s fourth Youth Leadership class.
The program was co-created eight years ago by Jefferson County High School’s work-based learning coordinator Tammy Hodges and Thomas Jefferson Academy Middle and Upper School Director Amber Dowdy, each of whom had links to the leadership program already existing room of the Adult Room.
Both said they noticed that many teenagers, although they were very active in their own school organizations and churches, did not know many aspects of their community. Most do not know who their elected officials are, the details of their local government, what local industries produce, and what opportunities are available around them every day.
“We were really surprised to see that children from different areas didn’t know what the other end of the county was up to,” Dowdy said. “We have had children who have never been to Bartow or who didn’t know what they were doing at Atwell Pecan. At KaMin they know there is a gypsum mine, but they don’t realize how many job opportunities there are ”.
Hodges said one of the main goals of the Youth Leadership program is to teach this group of young and old what Jefferson County has to offer.
“A lot of our kids didn’t want to go back to Jefferson County because they thought there were no jobs or opportunities here,” Dowdy said.
“We wanted them to appreciate their county and develop some leadership skills at the same time,” added Hodges. “This is a way to grow our community’s future government and business leaders.”
The Chamber of Commerce hosts the program every two years and invites young and old to apply. This year members of the first youth leadership class were part of the jury that interviewed the candidates.
“It was fun to get them back,” Hodges said. “Many of them were in their last semesters in college and it was fun for them to catch up and be here to talk to current participants about what they have gained from the program and what they can expect from it.”
Youth Leadership members visit local businesses and industries and meet business leaders and government officials. Six sessions are held throughout the year in different cities in the county and outside of these meetings participants should attend at least two local government meetings and one cultural event held in the county.
“Our group is really big this year,” said Dowdy. “We have 29 participants in this class. The first year we had 12 or 14. Companies are helping a lot more because they see it’s a great program. We have also improved and learned about several college scholarship opportunities for leadership. Thanks to generous donations and sponsorships from local businesses we were able to offer two $ 500 scholarships, one in each school for youth leadership participants. ”
At the first class meeting last week, Hodges and Dowdy talked to attendees about interviewing skills, how to use social media correctly, and how to introduce yourself when meeting someone professional.
“We spend a lot of time public speaking, how to lead a conversation without just talking about yourself,” Dowdy said.
They visited some businesses in the center and met other entrepreneurs. Subsequent meetings will be held in Wrens, Wadley and Bartow where they will learn more about economic development, attend mock council meetings and meet with elected officials.
“We have several who will be 18 in the coming weeks and who will vote soon. They have to take an active role and know who these people are and what they are doing, ”Dowdy said.
“Just last year, a former youth leadership graduate ran for Wrens City Council,” Hodges said.
In December, students will attend the House’s annual legislative breakfast and have their own separate meeting with state and federal representatives from the county.
“It’s a great program and we’re excited about all the opportunities these students will have,” said Hodges. “We do this every two years, so if students are interested in attending in the future, current 9th and 10th grade students will be able to apply in the spring of 2024.”
Members of the current County Youth Leadership Class are: Jeyley Ambrosio-Ruiz, C’khia Beasley, Daisy Becerra-Agustin, Christopher Biggers, Carson Davis, Savannah Davis, Jackson Dowdy, Mary Dalton Dowdy, John Durden, Sara Gore, Mary Wilhelmina Hodges, Jacob Holt, Lexie Lou Howard, Zoie Irby, Anay Jhaveri, Samuel Lewis, Markayla Watts, Marti Ann Bailey, Annie Mays, Elijah McArthur, Will McNeely, Hannah Miller, Joe Miller, Rashad Nelson, Lydia Newman, Chandler Smith , Shelby Valduga, Whitney Wells and Destiny Wilcher.