Jayla Williams was born with drive.
It was the kind of inherent push that urged the girl, as a 4-year-old, to spend hours and hours practicing signing her name prior to her first day of kindergarten. Her mother, Melissa Pollard, said the girl has always been self-motivated. She’ll tell you Jayla got it on her own, but if you ask Jayla, it’s her parents who inspired her to always be prepared in order to succeed.
The 15-year-old Gainesville High School sophomore told a crowd of dozens at the annual Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County Youth of the Year Luncheon on Monday that it was, in fact, her parents who helped keep her motivated throughout childhood.
Williams was selected over two other finalists — Gabriel Copeland, 18, and Myron Dabney, 15, both of Gainesville High School — as the Georgia Youth of the Year from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County. As the local winner, she will next go on to the state level to compete for a $5,000 scholarship. It’s her second year in a row as the local winner.
She said this year she hopes to win the state competition.
“I’m better prepared,” she said. “Now that I’ve been through it once, I’ve got more confidence.”
Williams said that, growing up, her father inspired her to be prepared and always arrive early.
Her father, Dennis Williams, died last year following a sudden illness.
“My dad was my hero,” she said. “He taught me a lot. He was dedicated to us. Because he had flexible hours at his job, he would go to work at 4 a.m. just so he could spend time with us (his children) in the afternoon.”
Added Williams: “My dad’s last words were that he was proud of me. I will strive to continue to make him proud and honor his last words.”
Her time spent with the Boys & Girls Club of Hall County meant a lot to her as well. Following the death of her father, she said, the “prayers and words of encouragement from the staff and members … helped me through this tough time.”
Despite her struggles with the loss of her dad, Jayla has achieved a great deal.
She has a 4.0 GPA, has won an MVP Award for playing softball and currently serves as president of the Keystone Club.
And, she’s an accomplished public speaker. The key to speaking in front of a group?
“Practice, practice, practice,” she said. “It’s just a matter of doing it over and over again and getting better and better.”
Rea Williams, one of the judges of the local competition, said it was a tough decision declaring a single winner among Williams, Copeland and Dabney.
“Each one of them had some very, very positive attributes, and it was very hard to decide,” he said, adding that “all these kids were impressive, especially when you take a look at their age … they are so mature for their ages.”
Pollard said her daughter Jayla Williams has always been the picture of a mature child, beginning way back at the age of 4 as she practiced signing her name over and over again, filling pages with inky signatures in anticipation of her first day of school.
“She’s a spectacular child,” Pollard said. “It’s been wonderful watching her grow and succeed. I’m very proud of her.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County serve more than 5,500 young people every year and have 610 members, ages 6 to 18, every day. Eighty-six percent of the organization’s youth comes from economically disadvantaged circumstances.