Members of the Youth Leadership Development Program celebrate graduation from the program.

Members of the Youth Leadership Development Program celebrate graduation from the program.

HANCEVILLE, Ala. — The inaugural class of the Youth Leadership Development Program (YLDP) for Cullman County facilitated by Wallace State Community College proved to be a great success, with its students earning 21 percent of all scholarships and walking away with some of the larger awards offered. Overall, they earned more than $100,000 in scholarships.

The program provided opportunities for more than 60 students to develop leadership skills while conducting or assisting with numerous community outreach programs. The students met once a month during the nine-month program that kicked off last September, with students across the state hearing from Coach Herman Boone, who was portrayed by Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans.” During the year, the students also attended meetings held a Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and heard from former Alabama football player Jeremiah Castille and other various speakers.

“It was a very successful inaugural year for the YLDP Cullman chapter,” said Wallace State’s Tad Parker, who helped lead the Cullman program. “The students did a fantastic job and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Parker said the students exhibited a great amount of dedication and hard work as they put in hours of effort in their community projects. Included among their projects were a clothing drive and a beautification day at Heritage Park in Cullman. Most students worked on at least three projects and sometimes four.

“They gave back to the community in a positive way and made some changes that will have a lasting impact,” Parker said.

As reward for their efforts, the students were eligible to apply for thousands of dollars in scholarships provided by state colleges and universities, as well as cash scholarships from other supporters.

One of the most coveted awards was a $40,000 scholarship to Auburn University claimed by Brock Hickman of Hartselle High School. Trey Moody of Hartselle High School received a scholarship to Wallace State. The University of Alabama at Birmingham gifted a scholarship to Matthew Burns of Hanceville High School. Kaitelyn Sheppard of Corner High School and Morgan Prince of Hartselle High School, both earned scholarships to Jacksonville State University and Hannah Edwards of Corner High School to Troy University.

Cash scholarships were also awarded. Holly Pond High School’s Clint O’Brien, president of the YLDP Cullman class, received the highest cash scholarship of all at $1,500 and he was presented with the $4,400 Student Outreach and Recruitment (SOAR) scholarship. Other cash scholarships went to Meagan Tucker and Hayley Pate of Corner High School, Rebecca Carter of West Point High School, Chandra Barnes of Hanceville High School, Hannah Berry of Hartselle High School and Jesse Calvert of Good Hope High School.

O’Brien said he jumped at the opportunity to be a part of YLDP when his high school counselor asked him if he wanted to participate.

“I loved the program,” said O’Brien. “The people involved, they are some of my lifelong friends now.”

O’Brien said he loved learning leadership skills and putting them to use on the community service projects the groups led. His favorite, he said, was when the group helped pick up limbs and debris in the wooded area of Heritage Park. “I was amazed at what a difference it made and the manager of the park was very impressed with our efforts.”

O’Brien will be returning to the program in the fall, but this time as a Wallace State student facilitator. “I’m excited to come in next year and to experience from the leader perspective,” he said. Plus, he said he’d be better able to relate the students coming in to the program. “I know how they feel, know what to expect and I can help them understand it more,” he said. O’Brien said he would encourage any student to who becomes involved in YLDP to stick with it. “There is so much fun in the program and you learn so much throughout it,” he said. “Even if you only go to the monthly meetings, you learn how to become a better leader.”

A new group of juniors and seniors will meet for the second year of YLDP of Cullman. High school administrators and guidance counselors select the students for the program. Students interested in the program should check with their school guidance counselor.