Area student named Toyota scholar :Community service, grades make Briarwood senior regional finalist

A Briarwood Christian senior was one of 100 students nationwide to be chosen as a Toyota Community Scholar. Selected from a pool of more than 8,000 nominees, Robert Whitaker was the only finalist from Alabama.

&8220;We were quite in awe,&8221; said Whitaker&8217;s mother, Ginny Whitaker. The senior received $10,000 in scholarship money and attended a ceremony in Lousisville, Ky., honoring the winners.

Whitaker is the first student in Briarwood&8217;s history to be named a finalist said Briarwood Guidance Director Andrea Smith. &8220;He&8217;s just a really neat kid who wants to make an impact and a difference in the community,&8221; Smith said. &8220;He&8217;s an excellent student, his family support is tremendous. The whole family is just very philanthropic in the way they give back to the community, so he&8217;s been brought up with that mentality as well.&8221;

Whitaker is active in many school groups and community service activities including Boy Scouts, Habitat for Humanity and volunteering at Children&8217;s Hospital. He also makes regular trips to Guatemala with his school to assist in medical and dental clinics and help build schools.

But Smith believes what set him apart from other nominees was his recent Eagle Scout project.

Whitaker collected nearly 300 books for the Children&8217;s Family Harbor Center at Children&8217;s Hospital and raised money through bake sales and other events to fund a reading nook. An ardent reader himself, Whitaker&8217;s mother said he noticed the need during his own four-day hospital stay while in junior high school.

&8220;He was just kind of confined to his room,&8221; she said. &8220;He saw a need there.&8221;

Other service projects taken on by winning community scholars included gathering bicycles and medical and school supplies and raising money to ship them to Sierra Leone and promoting hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative to gas. The judging committee was comprised of college and university admissions officials from across the country.

&8220;The insight and the foresight that they have is just a real special gift, and, like I said, not everybody can do that,&8221; Smith said. &8220;Here are these young teens just having that special gift and wanting to give back in a tremendous way.

&8220;Rob has a very tender heart and a servant spirit and he really exhibited both of those things when he was focused on doing this project for his Eagle Scout,&8221; Smith said, adding he &8220;will continue to make an impact on society in the future.&8221;

Whitaker plans to enter Covenant College in Georgia this fall as a pre-med major