Youth Leadership Shelby County sees 32 students graduate

Published 11:30 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

NORTH SHELBY – Students enrolled in this year’s Youth Leadership Shelby County class gathered together for a night of recognition as they graduated from the educational and developmental program on Tuesday, April 23.

To house the graduation ceremony and to allow the students to present their final projects, Leadership Shelby County held its annual Youth Leadership Shelby County Graduation Dinner at Jefferson State Community College’s Judy Merritt Building.

“I can’t believe that graduation is already here,” said Michael O’Kelley, an officer on the Leadership Shelby County board of directors. “It has really flown by and it has been great. Tonight, we have family members here, school administrators, school principals, school staff, representatives from different nonprofits and we have Leadership Shelby County Alumni present here as well.”

The 11th grade students, who hail from across high schools in Shelby County, all partook in a six-month long program that exposed them to a wide variety of community leaders and decision makers that exist in a number of different fields including healthcare, government and the criminal justice system.

Unlike in past years, the night’s event did not feature a dedicated guest speaker but instead focused the crowd’s attention directly on the students and the good work they had undertaken as part of their group projects.

Split into four separate groups, the students were able to select a local nonprofit organization and apply their efforts toward a community service project of their own design.

Group one selected to help Blanket Fort Hope and the organization’s mission of aiding and rehabilitating survivors of child sex trafficking and abuse. As part of that effort, the group worked toward the organization of multiple fundraisers helmed by members of the group that included a coin drive, lunches for teachers, feminine product donations, a school pajama day drive and a social media fundraiser.

The group also announced that they were able to broker donations from multiple area businesses to donate landscaping supplies that went toward the construction and beautification of Blanket Fort Hope’s new Restoration Home facility in Columbiana.

“The Restoration Home will accommodate nine children and provide resources and programming to address physical and emotional needs and restore hope for the future,” said William O’Dell, a member of Youth Leadership group one and a student at Oak Mountain High School. “Construction is underway with a target completion date of fall 2024.”

In addition to the fundraisers and supply drives, the students also spent a day outside aiding in landscaping and grounds keeping efforts at the facility. Group one was also able to announce that they were able to raise more than $5,000 for the organization.

Group two’s service project put aid toward the Shelby Baptist Association and their efforts to collect much needed baby supplies and also dedicate their time to a day of volunteer work at SBA’s facility.

“The main reason that we chose Shelby Baptist is that it is such a wonderful organization,” said Camdyn Martin, a member of group two and a student at Pelham High School. “We thought that it would be very helpful for us to raise money for single mothers—not just in money but also physical donations—so that these mothers can provide for their children.”

Through group two’s collective efforts across their schools, the students managed to obtain more than 1,000 packages of baby wipes, 1,500 packages of diapers and hundreds of assorted baby items such as clothing, toys, bottles and pacifiers. To close their presentation, the group also presented SBA with a check that went toward SBA’s mobile dental assistance trailer.

The Shelby County Humane Society was the focus of group three’s project, which focused heavily on physical work toward improving and maintaining the grounds of the humane society’s facility.

“We believe in recognizing the efforts of members of our community to create a safe space for local pets and we also recognize the positive mental impact that can come along with owning an animal,” said Brenna Vickery, a member of group three and student at Pelham High School. “We wanted to ensure that members of our community continue to have that opportunity.”

Group three also held multiple donation drives for pet products across their varied schools and collected monetary donations through in-person and social media donations.

For their on-site work day, the group similarly spent the day pulling weeds, clearing brush, replacing flower beds and other grounds keeping work to improve the facilities.

For the final presentation, group four detailed how they put their work toward a cooperation with Vineyard Family Services, and more specifically the organization’s Wise Advisor and Juvenile Services Programs that is included in their mission of providing a family resource center that feeds kids in need, promotes responsible fatherhood and helps families in crisis.

“First we wanted to connect and have a good impact on the kids that lasted longer than just the one day we got to spend with them,” said Grant Blakely, a member of group four and student at Chelsea High School. “We wanted to educate them on peer pressure and making wise choices—the kids in this organization may not have the best surroundings but they need to make the best of what they have both in and outside of school. After that, we wanted to inspire creativity.”

The group also entertained the kids with ice breaker games to foster communication and task management skills. An artistic activity was also undertaken where the children and members of the group all set together and drew comics as a way to practice creative expression.

Along with their mentorship day, the group also organized for Tim Alexander, chief of police at Montevallo University, to serve as a guest speaker at the organization and for snow cones to be provided to the kids for free.

“It is so great and so important to get to see the kids get to work with these nonprofits one-on-one,” O’Kelley said. “It is something that a lot of high schoolers never get to do—they never get to walk out of their normal school, sports or church involvement and actually get to work with agencies right here in our county who are making a huge difference. Hats off to all of them for doing this. We had four great projects that made huge impacts.”

The following students graduated as part of the Youth Leadership Shelby County class of 2023:

Briarwood Christian School

  •  Abby Olsen

Calera High School

  •  Ava Horn
  •  Thomas Starkey
  •  Sydney Williams

Chelsea High School

  •  Grant Blakely
  •  Andrew George
  •  Patrick Maddox
  •  Ali Mims
  •  Madi Claire Sims

Evangel Classical Christian School

  •  Mia Kendrick

Evangel Christian School

  •  Halle Morris
  •  Jake Parker

Helena High School

  •  Alyson Ragland
  •  Anjali Reed
  •  Jarret Scott

Oak Mountain High School

  •  Belle Casey
  •  Abe Ivey
  •  William O’Dell
  •  Lissy O’Kelley
  •  John Will Peterson

Pelham High School

  •  Addie Knight
  •  Camdyn Martin
  •  Maddie Shebs
  •  Brenna Vickery

Shelby County High School

  •  Addison Grigsby
  •  Abby Nave
  •  Mallory Venable

Spain Park High School

  •  Sofia Contreras

Thompson High School

  •  Sasha Gann
  •  Kailyn Reynolds

Vincent High School

  •  Ella Fields
  •  Aiden Poe

Those interested in learning more about the youth leadership program may visit