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August 6, 2011

Community service is one of the hallmarks of Terry's Leonard Leadership Scholars Program, and the current junior class of scholars has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that their innovative class project on behalf of the Garnett Ridge Boys & Girls Club will continue to pay dividends in the future.

The outreach program was hatched in the classroom of Vikki Clawson, an instructor in Terry's Institute for Leadership Advancement, and the 32 scholars tackled the Garnett Ridge initiative in a number of ways. They held intensive work sessions, made the clubhouse environmentally friendly and energy efficient, and developed a soccer field for the community's use. Scholars also helped Boys & Girls Club members with homework, led field trips, and established a youth leadership organization, known as the Torch Club.

"The goal is to inspire these kids to go beyond their aspirations in the community, like going to college," says Terry student David Jett, who led the Garnett Ridge team. "I worked on the Torch Club, a leadership development club for early middle school-age students. It's a critical age. If they don't get engaged in leadership activities at school or sports, they're liable to turn to gangs or unproductive things. We're trying to instill some deeper meaning in their lives."

Susan Wilson, director of the Garnett Ridge club, says the Leonard Scholars have made an immediate difference. "The Torch Club has had the most immediate impact and the renovation had a big impact. But honestly, the soccer field is liable to wind up having the biggest impact. If we keep a league going, it could have a good long-term impact for the kids."

To help sustain the commitment going forward, the scholars also created a new UGA student organization to support ongoing mentoring and tutoring at Garnett Ridge. They did such an outstanding job that they received a campuswide award as the Outstanding New Organization from UGA's Center for Student Organizations.

"Our project has touched more than 50 children, 30 families, and 40 college students," says Jett. "The clubhouse is now organized and more energy efficient. The understaffed afterschool program now has the manpower and structure to effectively serve the children. The community now has a usable soccer field. Environmental awareness has been raised, and the Torch Club meets regularly and has performed several service projects."

Financial help is already on the way. In April 2011, the Leonard Scholars won a national prize - and a $10,000 cash award for Garnett Ridge - as part of Ernst & Young LLP's "Your World, Your Vision" campus competition. With support from Ernst & Young, State Farm Insurance, and the national Boys & Girls Club organization, nearly $20,000 has been raised to continue the Garnett Ridge initiative.

"We were at a Garnett Ridge board meeting recently and the board president said they had a 10-year plan that they'll be able to get done within a year, thanks to all the work we've been able to do," says Jett, who referenced the Garnett Ridge program while making an orientation talk to the next class of Leonard scholars. He began by saying:

"The coolest thing I've done in my life was to impact this Boys & Girls Club. We developed relationships with the kids, and I believe we have instilled in them the motivation to achieve more than they might have before the experience."