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Youth Leadership Anderson County students’ vision to meet community needs

The Anderson Community Education (ACE) building is a brick building located at 219 East Woodford Street that many of us drive past perhaps without giving it a second thought. That is, until recently, when the grounds got a bit of sprucing up thanks to the Youth Leadership Anderson County (YLAC) group. The high school students who make up this group were painting, weeding, planting, mulching… and planning. Their planning vision board, the elements of which students have now been working toward for months, sits squarely in the kitchen of the ACE building. Scrawled on it is a list of steps and items needed to reach their ultimate goal: a student-focused community center that can provide aid for students with food insecurities, tutoring opportunities, a quiet place to study, a fun and safe place to gather, and even a place where students can do their laundry. Every item crossed from the list gets the students one step closer to that goal, a lofty feat for a program still in its infancy. 

Though YLAC is only in its second year, it is modeled after the Leadership Anderson County program provided by the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Jeri Lynn Carmickle, detailed that the Chamber had, in this second year, opened up the program to include not only public school students, but also to privately schooled and homeschooled students in order to diversify the twenty participants selected for the program. The YLAC program involves team-building activities, tours of local industrial facilities and meetings with area industry leaders, introductions to local first responders, local government leaders, and state government leaders like Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman. As a culminating activity, the students are tasked with identifying a community need and developing a plan to address that need, hence the birth of their vision to transform particular areas of the Anderson Community Education building. 

Carmickle, who states that she has been impressed by this group of natural leaders from day one, noted of the project, “The students looked no further than their very own peers for their community project, including the middle school. They saw a need for a safe, quiet place to hang out and read, study, or enjoy a meal or a game with friends. Items students may need such as basic personal care and materials needed for school projects will be available. Students will be practicing life skills by utilizing the laundry facility and experimenting with new recipes complete with take-home ingredients for their families. The ACE building hosts several gardens for herbs and produce where many of the ingredients for the recipes will come from. I feel as though the younger students will benefit by seeing the older ones give back through volunteering, thus setting a precedence for the future leaders of our community.”

Candy Rollins, who spearheaded The Bearcat Career Center at Anderson County High School, has been a natural fit, along with district CIO Blake Drury and Superintendent Sheila Mitchell in partnering with the Chamber to guide this group of students. In fact, Rollins feels that we all have a lot to learn from the students themselves: “This group of young people has given me renewed hope in our future as a whole. They will definitely be future leaders in our community, and we can all learn from their willingness to listen and learn from each other without conflict developing.”

Superintendent Sheila Mitchell agrees. While Anderson County Schools liaisons Candy Rollins and Blake Drury, as well as Carmickle, have been quick to thank Superintendent Sheila Mitchell for her support and involvement with the group throughout the entire process, Mitchell put the attention back on the students, stating, “The students involved in the program have made all of us proud due to their civility, their passion, and their dedication. Every step of the process, from meeting with local or state officials to presenting their vision to the school board for approval, was done with conviction and confidence. These students are set to change the world and have graced us with beginning their work right here in our community.”

Even though the project is still in the planning stages, YLAC participants can already see the value of the experiences they have gained through being part of this program. ACHS junior Bailey Morgan, said of the experience, “YLAC has brought amazing opportunities to the students of Anderson County. It was really given me the inspiration to do great things by showing me that I am capable of creating change.”

The students’ passion has been evident over the past seven months of participation and soon their hard work will be visible to the rest of the Anderson County community as well.