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Junior Leaders reflect on year of service, fun

Dozens of Franklin County students have spent the past year assisting at festivals, serving at banquets, job shadowing local professionals, making new friends and honing their skills as leaders. But for this year’s crop of Junior Leadership participants, those days have come to an end.

The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce will host a “graduation ceremony” for its Junior Leaders at the end of the month. Their terms of service ended Friday.

Each student has learned and grown through this program, and several took the time to share their thoughts on the experience.

“When I found out about the Junior Leadership program, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it,” remembered Kaylee Allen, Phil Campbell. “After Mrs. Cassie talked to my class about it, I decided that it would be fun and give me an opportunity to meet new people. I also decided that it would look good on college applications and it would look good for scholarships.”

The appeal of an impressive addition to college and scholarship applications was a draw for many. Students were also eager to “be more involved in the community and to meet people my age from around the county” (Abby Jones, Belgreen) and “enhance my leadership skills” (Tate Ozbirn, Red Bay).

“Among hearing many good things about the program, my older sister was a Junior Leader in 2014 and encouraged me to apply since it would be a great opportunity and experience for me,” Janet Martinez, Tharptown, added.

Most students didn’t know what to expect when they were inducted into the Junior Leadership program – aside from anticipating it would be hard work.

“I expected it to be a lot of work, but I didn’t think it would be as stressful as it was,” Allen said. “There were times when we were serving people at banquets, and it got so stressful because there were hundreds of people to be served.”

“It was a lot of work,” Ozbirn agreed. “You had to be able to multitask and think on your feet. It was also important to be courteous while you were working too, no matter what.”

However, “It was more fun than I expected it to be,” Ozbirn said. “It was a lot of work, but we did have some fun too.”

In addition to the many service opportunities, the students had chances to interact socially and get to know one another. Some of those experiences ranked as favorites for this year’s Junior Leaders.

“My favorite experience as a Junior Leader was any time we were all together as whole,” said Sierra Prince, Russellville. “I’ve really enjoyed spending time with my fellow Junior Leaders and I hope we can all keep in contact when our time as Junior Leaders is over.”

Allen said her favorite experience was hiking at Rock Bridge Canyon. “That is when all the Junior Leaders get together and get separated into groups. You meet new people and you have no choice but to talk to them and work together to overcome obstacles. It’s really fun,” Allen said.

For Erica Cantrell, Vina, the best part was job shadowing in February.

“My best friend and I job shadowed at a vet, and they had these cats that would run around, and you could pet them,” Cantrell said. “The people there were so nice too. It was fun.

Of course, even some of the “work” had fun aspects.

“I enjoyed working at the Watermelon Festival as well as the Easter egg hunt,” Jones said. Martinez also enjoyed working at the Watermelon Festival. “It was a fun and enlightening experience since we all got to see what happens behind the scene – something that the public doesn’t see,” she said.

Chamber director Cassie Medley commended the students for all they have learned and accomplished this year.

“Part of graduating from the Junior Leadership Program is to write an essay about ‘How the Junior Leadership Program Helped Me Become a Better Leader,’” Medley said “The ones that I have read – they have learned to be more responsible and work as a team and that volunteering helps others but is a blessing to the one volunteering. This group has matured, learning valuable lessons about being on time, having a good attitude when the work is not pleasant and being responsible for upcoming deadlines.”

Students named a number of skills or benefits they gained from serving in Junior Leadership, from better communication abilities and the willingness to cooperate and work as a team, to increased time management and improved personal responsibility. And although students each had different reservations going into the program, it was an experience they would definitely choose again – and recommended to rising juniors.

“In the end, it was actually fun and I made amazing friends,” Martinez said. “We all get along like we had known each other for a long time, even though it was the first time some of us had met each other.”

“My experience as a Junior Leader was very different than I expected, in a good way,” Prince said. “Getting to know other people from other schools was my biggest struggle … I’ve made so many new friends and experienced things I probably never would have experienced had it not been for Junior Leadership.”

And these seasoned veterans have plenty of advice for next year’s Junior Leaders.

“Get out of your comfort zone, and be polite to everyone,” Cantrell recommended. “Some important people attend the events you work, and they’ll remember you.”

Allen encouraged future Junior Leaders to have fun as well as take it seriously. “It can help you become a better person,” she said.

Students also recommended going in with an open mind. Additionally, “When you’re making decisions think of the outcome and the effects it will have on you and the people around you,” Martinez said. “Also, be prepared to work because you will work hard in this program.”

Medley also highlighted the students’ hard work. “Franklin County as a whole is better because of their service,” Medley said. “On behalf of the Chamber, its directors and myself, we are proud of each one and what they accomplished and will accomplish in the future.”

 

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