By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
PICAYUNE — The 10th class of Partners for Pearl River County celebrated its graduation at First Baptist Church on Friday, May 10, in the Fellowship Hall. The graduating class included: Jason Bounds, Nacole Dillon, Christy Goss, John Huck, Jeff McClain, Teenia Perry, Paul Reese, Brooke Rester, Eric Stafne, Richelle Stafne, Kristin Thibodeaux, Pat Tidmore, and Jim Walker. The staff is comprised of: Jo Woods, Tricia Knight, Shirley Wiltshire, Marilyn Bailey, Rod Lincoln and Scott Langlois (Program Chairman). This year marks the first class since founder Glade Woods passed away. Woods’ wife, Jo, was always equally dedicated to the program and is as active as ever in her passion to develop leaders and share her love for Pearl River County. In addition to the project presentation by the graduating class, this year marked a new tradition with the presentation of the Glade Woods Leadership Award to one class member who exhibited marked growth in leadership. “One thing Glade would always talk about, throughout the years, was the growth he would see in individual students. He never forgot a student’s name or the progress they made through the program. The board decided an award based on that quality would be a meaningful way to honor him. “The inaugural Glade Woods Leadership Award was presented to Brooke Rester. This award is given to the class member who demonstrates exceptional leadership skills and abilities throughout the 10 month class,” said Langlois. The three projects that were presented were: Pearl River County Dogs; Financial Education for Students and Project Investment. The first presentation was Pearl River County Dogs and was presented by Eric and Richelle Stafne. The duo have recently relocated to Pearl River County and focused on dog-friendly places to visit and community events. Their project included establishing a website and Facebook presence through which they promote events and establishments which are pet friendly. Examples given were the Crosby Arboretum and Pawdi Gras Parade sponsored by The Senior Center. “The reach of site has been far greater than the county, state, or U.S.,” said Richelle Stafne. “We have had views from many other countries and are linking to dog-friendly sites elsewhere, as well as beginning a blog to provide tips for dog owners.” The second presentation: Financial Literacy for Pearl River County High Schools was based on curriculum by Dave Ramsay. Project team members were: John Huck, Christy Goss, Paul Reese, Kristin Thibodeaux and Pat Tidmore. Their mission was to provide a high-quality curriculum to PRC High School to support teaching financial literacy. After getting some background on education statistics in the county, the team members felt compelled to embrace this as their project. They reviewed materials and watched video segments from curriculum presented by Dave Ramsay. Team member John Huck was familiar with Ramsay and taught a financial class with his educational materials at his church. The team agreed the curriculum would provide valuable knowledge to students and empower them to make sound financial decisions. The curriculum is based on four units: Saving and Investing; Credit and Debt; Financial Responsibility and Money Management, and Insurance/Risk Management and Income/Careers. Once the details and budget had been finalized, they approached schools for approval and began to raise money for their project from community stakeholders. In the midst of their project, the team received validation from State Treasurer Lynn Fitch. In a Mississippi Business Journal Article, published on Jan. 18, Fitch was quoted as saying, “... this is the year that the state should mandate financial literacy for high schoolers.” The team met with Fitch who confirmed they were on the right track for students in Pearl River County. All local high schools accepted the financial literacy curriculum and will begin using it next year in the classrooms. Through local donors, the team raised more than $5,000 and has been able to purchase a life-time membership for the curriculum for all county high schools. The schools will be able to duplicate curriculum materials on demand and receive updates. The third presentation: Project Investment, focused on community leaders investing time and knowledge into area youth who could be labeled as “at-risk” due to socio-economic circumstances. The team members were: Jason Bounds, Nacole Dillon, Jeff McClain, Teenia Perry, Brooke Rester and Jim Walker. The team chose this project during the “Education Day” segment of their class and met with teachers and social workers in the school system as they gathered information to determine components of their project. In their research, the group gathered a list of “Hidden Rules” of conduct to better understand the differences between conduct of those fitting in generational poverty, middle class and wealth categories. The material, based on work of Ruby Payne and others, was a generalization of behaviors and based on large populations. The group then chose four high school students, from Picayune Memorial High School, with the goal of providing a framework for positive relationships between the business community and the school community. They hoped to expose the youth to positive role models who would provide consistent support and guidance. Their intent was to help develop personal skills and career awareness to encourage the youth to graduate from high school and either gain admission to college or obtain a full-time job. The group obtained memberships for the youth to local gyms, took them bowling, attended the PMHS basketball playoffs and took them to dinners at various restaurants, and had them volunteering at Manna Ministries. They also took the young men on a tour of the PRC Utility Authority Wastewater Treatment Facility and helped the young men attend their high school prom with community donations. The youth experienced a desire to become mentors, themselves. They were encouraged that their dreams could be met despite age and socio-economic differences, the team experienced a changed perception of youth in the community, realized that “at-risk” is not defined as problem. The community experienced a conquering of stereotypes, volunteerism’s positive impact on both parties, and the realization that everyone has something they can give back to the community, regardless of their situation. Those in attendance had much to say about the class projects. “Each year I attend the graduation, I am more impressed with the projects undertaken by the groups. The time, devotion, and care given to each project continues to astound me. The projects are ones which will have an impact in the community,” said DA Hal Kittrell. Pearl River Community College Vice-President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks said, “Pearl River County's future lies in the hands of our young people. The 2013 Partners for Pearl River County Leadership Program graduates went ‘over and above’ expectations in building a foundation for success for our youth. This class of graduates set the bar high for the wave of students. Not only did these students learn more about Pearl River County, but they dedicated a lot of time to help young Pearl River County residents through education and mentoring. It is always a pleasure working with the Partners Leadership Program.” “It was a wonderful experience which I would recommend to everyone. I have lived my entire life and I learned I had much to learn about the county I call home,” said graduate Christy Goss.