Forging Leaders: Community members form program to develop youth potential

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2016

HELPING HAND: From left, Shirley Williams and 12-year-old Jay Hegwood, fold Williams’ laundry during Friday’s “Laundry Love” event.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

HELPING HAND: From left, Shirley Williams and 12-year-old Jay Hegwood, fold Williams’ laundry during Friday’s “Laundry Love” event.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

Friday, a dozen young men visited a Picayune laundromat to spread kindness in their community by paying for people’s laundry service and helping them fold or carry their heavy loads.
“Laundry Love” ended the week-long leadership program, The Forge Project.
The camp was formed by a group of educators, ministers and social workers, said PJ Williams, a founding board member and fifth grade teacher at Southside Upper Elementary.
“Our mission is to target young men with leadership potential and to provide them with opportunities to grow and develop that potential through a variety of fun and challenging activities,” she said. “The boys had the opportunity to participate in devotions, service projects, opportunities to develop life skills and participate challenging and exciting teambuilding activities, all designed to help campers build character and realize their individual potential.”
During the week, the young men had an opportunity to learn these skills from guest speaker John Feaster, football coach at Stone County High School. He spoke to the group about overcoming hurdles to fulfill dreams, Williams said.
Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation and NASA scientist Clyde Dease spoke to campers about the qualities a strong leader should posses, Williams said.
Bart Posey, a professional dog trainer, presented a program on dog training techniques and Picayune police officer Lamar Thompson spoke to the group about the importance of education and hard work. Air Force veteran and ROTC instructor Johnny Hays emphasized the importance of mentors and teambuilding. Edison Williams, professor at William Carey University, discussed the medieval code of chivalry. Jonathan Hopkins of Pilgrim Bound Baptist Church spoke of the importance of a man’s character and Scoutmaster Houston Costolo taught campers outdoor survival skills, Williams said.
Williams said campers also learned fundamental life skills such as cooking, laundry, grooming and personal hygiene from Susan Spiers and Kimaka Bowens, a nurse practicioner. Suzan Wilson demonstrated proper etiquette and table manners. Jackson Ledford gave instructions on how to properly tie a tie and Baily Sims discussed the proper way to interact with women.
Local spiritual leaders, including Josh Braddy, Walt Barnes, Tracy and Jackson Ledford and Jeremy Williams, hosted a daily spiritual devotion, Williams said.
Project participants also engaged in water balloon competitions, slip and slide kickball, fishing, visits to local restaurants and a trip to the movies, Williams added.
Many local businesses and individuals sponsored The Forge Project, Williams said.
“This week reminded me about everything that’s good with our youth and community,” Tracy Ledford said. “I’ve been impressed to watch the community come together to support the young leaders step up to the challenge they’ve been given.”
Wyatt Faye, 11, said he learned about God and how to be kind to others.
“God doesn’t want us to look good on the outside, but on the inside,” he said.
Taquan Walton, 10, said learning about proper manners and how to communicate with people is important because “you might need somebody someday and need to be nice.”
Jermiah Adams, 11, said he recommends this program to other kids his age. He said he learned that it’s important to treat ladies with respect, be nice to them, pull their chairs out for them at restaurants and open car doors for them.
“I plan to use the Bible they gave me,” 13-year-old Dakeyvion Jones said. “And use manners toward the people around me and help people out.”
Jay Hegwood, 12, said it made him feel happy to give back his community and pay for people’s laundry.
“It makes me feel happy because a lot of people can’t afford to pay for laundry and it helps out,” Hegwood said. “You need to be kind so you can have friends in later years. I want to give back as much as I can.”
Laundromat patron Shirley Williams said receiving help from the boys was a wonderful blessing.
“It’s important to teach our young people these things,” she added.
Frances and Walter Storey were taken by surprise when a group of young men greeted them at their car and carried their large blankets inside the laundromat.
“It’s a wonderful thing for our community to be around these kids and support them,” Frances Storey said. “They act like such good kids. Our young people need leaders like this.”
Shayla Goss, sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Southside Upper Elementary, said she is extremely proud of the young men’s performance this week.
She also added that she would like to see this group grow and expand to include young women as well.
“It’s exceeding my expectations,” she said. “They accomplished so much in five days and it warms my heart. I want them to know that not everyone is bad, you also have phenomenal people and they need to be exposed to that.”
The founding board members are Susan Spiers, Goss, Tracy Ledford, Jennifer McBride, Jeremy Williams and P.J. Williams. Dino Hair, Jackson Ledford and Baily Sims Henry volunteered as weeklong mentors, Williams said.
“These young men represent the future leaders of our state, our nation and the world,” Williams said. “Our goal at The Forge Project is to help them to develop the skills and character necessary to fulfill that leadership role and to use their lives to affect a positive, lasting impact on the world.”
For more information about The Forge Project contact board members at

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