Passing the torch of Jr. Beta Club leadership

By Kathy Copeland / Community Columnist

With days until Jo Leigh Harlow is officially retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom, she demonstrates all terms are relative. As the sponsor of the Jr. Beta Club at Vincent Middle High School, she carried on like always, with a servant’s heart.

On May 14th, her voice carried to the parking lot as she exited the school? “Is everyone ready?” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” they responded as everyone dispersed into the caravan of vehicles headed toward The Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham.

The day could not have been more beautiful. The sky was clear, the sun was shining and the front that passed through the night before had left the temperatures mild with a slight cool breeze. Perfect for pulling weeds in the playground/garden area at the House that accommodates families who have children receiving medical treatment at Children’s of Alabama, UAB or other area hospitals.

“We love to see this. Students are always welcome here, and we so appreciate what y’all are doing,” said Brianne Denley, Communications Coordinator for the facility.

The Ronald McDonald House is known for creating a loving, supportive, atmosphere for families, including a home-cooked meal each evening. Earlier in the year, this same group traveled to the House to make “Breakfast for Dinner.” Yes, these kids, with adult supervision, cooked pancakes, bacon, eggs and sausage for the families that evening. And they served them and cleaned up afterwards.

The Jr. Beta Club is a national organization that promotes the ideals of character, service and leadership; at VMHS this group includes students from grades 6-8. Under the leadership of Harlow, the group has been quite active over the years, and this garden project was part of their nomination for the National Hall of Fame, which among other criteria, considers the number of service hours performed.

“We owe a special thank you to the United Methodist Women of Vincent and Harpersville,” said Harlow. “These kids work hard all year, and I really wanted to see this project completed. I appreciate their help”

Felicia Smith, who will take over as the teacher sponsor for the group, said, “I realize I have big shoes to fill but I am looking forward to it.”

“We have a pretty good group of parents dedicated to this group. We will be here to help Ms. Smith and the kids be successful,” said mother, Jesslyn Neaves.

Students dug holes, planted flowers, spread mulch and filled decorative pots with pretty flowers. It was apparent they were enjoying the day. Revealing her motivation to participate, student Sierra Neaves paused from trimming hedges to share, “I like coming out here, I like knowing we are making someone else’s day better.”

Mother Wendi Jernigan, said, “Ms. Harlow taught me in sixth grade and she has taught both my boys. I left work early to be here.” Harlow said about her last project, “It’s a little sad, but I’ll be back for this—after all isn’t this what we are supposed to do, serve!”