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Academy trains a new generation of leaders
Students gain inspiration from taking part in community service projects
Tyra Wimpye addresses a crowd Saturday about the more memorable experiences of Generation Inspiration, a youth leadership society. The eight-week academy ended with the finale reception at the Beulah Rucker Museum and Education Center in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Many parents can probably attest to the difficulties of waking their teenager up early on the weekends.

Sometimes it can seem as if they are only wired to get up early five out of seven days in the week — and that's only because they have to attend school.

However, for the last two months, a dozen Gainesville High School students have not only gotten up early on Saturdays, they've done so willingly in order to participate in the Generation Inspiration Youth Leadership Academy.

The academy is an 8-week long program that includes workshops and activities designed to help students grow as leaders.

"We started out with a history program here at the Beulah Rucker Center (where the academy meets)," said Ethan Hopkins, program coordinator and a graduate of the academy.

"We thought it was important for them to learn about the history of where they would be meeting. We also used that as an opportunity to have a facilitated discussion about what they plan to do to add to the history of their community."

This year, program coordinators decided to add a community service component for this class of participants. The students spent time volunteering with several nonprofits, including the Humane Society, Veteran's and Community Outreach Foundation and Keep Hall Beautiful.

"Community service is a part of being a servant leader," Hopkins said.

"We really wanted to add the community service experience to the program to help them start thinking of ways that they can give back to their community now, instead of waiting until they are adults."

During their speeches Saturday, many of the academy participants acknowledged how doing the community service projects impacted their lives positively.

"When we went to Good News at Noon, it really hit me," Jade Butts said.

"I was too busy living in my own bubble to realize that their are people who are (homeless)."

Other participants also said how spending time in the homeless shelter helped them to be more appreciative of what they have and to not rush to judgements about other people based on appearances.

Overall, the students say that the program has helped them to not only grow as leaders, but it also helped them to become better, well-rounded citizens.

"A leader is someone who speaks for those who can't speak for themselves, like the people at the Humane Society. A leader is someone that puts their life in danger so that others can be safe, like police officers," Christen Lott said.

"Before I became a part of this academy, I thought I was a leader. Now I realize that I've only scraped the surface of what it means to lead."

As one of the youngest leaders in the local government, Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell says that programs like the 5-year-old academy are crucial to Gainesville's continued ability to thrive.

"We have to cultivate the next generation of leaders. We have to get young people involved and help them cultivate a respect for the community," said Bell, Generation Inspiration founder.

"There are many organizations in this community that have lasted for decades and I hope that this is one of them."