First Community Bank Youth Leadership of Weakley County Class of 2020 Graduates
Twenty Weakley County sophomores kicked off their year with team building in October. By the time the First Community Bank Youth Leadership of Weakley County (FCBYLWC) Class of 2020 graduated last week, they had a bond forged by meeting member of local government, learning about economic development, discovering more about education and local community organizations, and surviving a pandemic.
“The eight month leadership program is designed to expose qualified Weakley County youth entering the tenth grade to the various elements of leadership and its impact on a strong and dynamic community,” said Barbara Virgin, the Executive Director of the Weakley County Chamber of Commerce and the coordinator of the program. “We are grateful to our sponsors The First Community Bank of the Heartland, with additional support from The Weakley County Municipal Electric System, Weakley County Schools; The Weakley County Chamber and everyone who generously contributed financial services and dedicated their time this year.”
Students are coded, evaluated and scored by blind selection on criteria such as their GPA, leadership skills, community involvement, references and their written application to become part of the annual class. The program is free and offers ½ school credit upon completion.
The Class of 2020 is composed of Parker Ferrell, Ryeson Greer, Anna Lackey, Jacey McClure, and Paige Mallon of Dresden High School; Kolton Crochet, Tallon Legens, Carrington Lifsey, Gracie Long, and Grace Stafford of Gleason School; Edie Darby, Garrett Garner, Destiny Griffin, Will Harris, and Zane High of Greenfield School; and Brian Hicks, Gloria Hogan, Amy Kang, Sophia Shaw and Natalie Williams of Westview High School.
The March tornado closed the Capitol and meant the group did not get to travel to Nashville for State Government Day. COVID-19 closures kept them from their planned session on agriculture. Yet, in surveys of the group, all agreed that the experience was a positive one.
“One part that I enjoyed most about this program was probably one of the most important lessons to learn,” said Paige Mallon. “In this program, you really find out what takes place in real life and the amount of sacrifices taken in order to be at the top. Being able to see and experience multiple aspects that will appear in my near future really helped me prepare for what is to come.”
She counted the day of learning about personal finance as especially helpful.
Natalie Williams enjoyed meeting leaders in the community, “I was surprised that we got to experience the things we did. I never thought I would get to sit down and socialize or attend board meetings with community leaders,” she said.
Zane High said he learned “how to work collaboratively with others and take responsibility for my own learning.” He wrote, “I wasn’t aware of all of the programs that we were able to experience this year and enjoyed getting to see how all of the organizations throughout the county work together.”
Grace Stafford served as the group’s Project Chairman for community service endeavors they performed. Individually, they supported Santa’s Village in Martin and Santa’s Helpers in Dresden with a nonperishable food drive. As a group, they visited the Weakley County Nursing Home, sang and played games with the residents.
Stafford recapped a bit of their shared experiences at the graduation and, in doing so, demonstrated a takeaway she feels she gained, “I have learned how to talk in front of big crowds and how to handle myself in high pressure situations which will help me as I grow and mature. Also, in the application process I learned how to show off my skills in writing which should one day help me on my resume.”
Jacey McClure agreed with High that working in collaboration is a necessary skill for leaders. “I learned how to work with a larger group to accomplish the same goal. Working with 20 people is not an easy task but, I am glad I learned how to cooperate with a larger group because I imagine it will be a necessary skill if I want to continue helping in my community.”
Getting an insider’s look was another appealing element, McClure added that a pleasant surprise was learning what is happening inside local businesses, “For example, I was surprised over how much goes on inside the MTD factory and how their systems worked.”
Sophia Shaw gained several insights from the experience, “Most of the time when people hear the word “essential” they think of firefighters and nurses, but through this class I began to understand that it takes a community to be successful. It’s the community, the individual people working together, that are essential and make the world a better place. A key lesson that I learned is that listening is extremely important, a skill that seems simple but is easier said than done and requires years to practice. It’s important to listen to others and their problems in order to improve the community.”
Acquiring new insights wasn’t limited to interactions with businesses. Anna Lackey found her exposure to the Weakley County Jail enlightening.
“I learned so much from visiting a place I had never got the opportunity to see before,” she noted, adding. “I will think more like a leader in the future from learning that it takes many different groups of people who specialize in different things to come together to make a strong community. After being a part of this program it has opened my eyes to seeing the different aspect of each town to come together to make a productive county.”
Greenfield’s Zane High pointed to the graduation ceremony as one of the more unusual experiences of the year. “There is normally a big banquet at UT Martin in April that we attend, but that did not happen due to COVID-19,” he explained.
The event on Thursday evening was one of social distancing and held outdoors on the Weakley County Courthouse lawn with parents observing from parked cars.
Weakley County Chamber President Ty Smithson and First Community Bank of the Heartland Vice President Greg Gunter participated in the ceremony. Their involvement reflected the engagement that the graduates considered a highlight.
“The thing I enjoyed the most about this experience was the influential speakers and guests who visited our class. They were very inspirational and informative. One thing I learned was that leading is not a one-person job, unlike common opinion. Leading requires teamwork and communication with the people you were appointed to lead,” said Gracie Long.
As for the days ahead, Mallon points to one of her takeaways that was voiced in different ways by many, “I learned countless helpful tips and caught on to so many interesting things. The program makes my future seem so surreal. It has helped me in unexplainable ways and has provided me with a trusting foundation in becoming a leader,” she said.