By Lisa Voyles
WOODLAND – Woodland may be small in population and area but it is big on heart and helping hands.
The community has always been close-knit and looks out for their own and now they are growing the next generation of service-oriented residents right at home.
Mayor Patti Watkins had hopes of forming a youth council since the first time she heard of it but had to wait until the time was right.
“Several years ago, the Mississippi Municipal League had the vision to start having youth councils in towns to foster the community spirit into the future leaders of this great state,” Watkins said. “Last year we took the plunge.”
The council members determine the projects they want to work on and the needs they think should be met and they have stayed busy since they started.
Some of their projects have included making Christmas and Valentine’s treats for older citizens,helping with the annual lighting display through the Christmas holidays and assisting children with the annual Easter egg hunt.
“They spend a lot of time visiting the elderly in town and they help with any project we come up with,” Watkins said.
Council member Jermaine White said working with the elderly and providing community service is important.
“I wanted to join the Youth Council because I thought it was a great opportunity,” White said. “I’ve always liked helping people and what better way to do it than by joining the Youth Council. My favorite project was when we gave fruit baskets to the elderly in Woodland. Everyone should give back to their community.”
In addition to hands-on experience in town, the council members have had leadership training opportunities, too.
“The kids were able to attend the State convention in Hattiesburg where they met other youth councils from across the state,” Watkins said. “We wanted our youth to have the same opportunities that larger towns offer their kids. No, we aren’t the largest group, but we are not the smallest either.”
This year, the conference was held on the campus of Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. The locations for the conferences – colleges and universities – allow youth to tour the facilities and become familiar with post-secondary education.
Taking it forward
Watkins said the experience of being in the Youth Council has tangible results.
“I recently talked to the mother of a college student and she told me that her child being on the Youth Council aided her more in (scholarship) money for college than any of her other activities,” Watkins said. “One of our members, Javonta McIntosh, actually won a $500 scholarship while we were in Columbus. These kids are very active and have a lot going for them.”
Former member and current college student, Heather Jackson, said she took her experience and knowledge gained from the Youth Council with her.
“I really loved being in the Youth Council of Woodland because it let me know that we need to do more for our town because they have helped us in the past,” Jackson said. “This has helped me to become the person I am now because I help people more any way I can. It’s all about giving back. I’m in college now and too old to be in it, but it is never too late to help out anyone in need.”
Spreading it around
In addition to local projects, the council is branching out to help people in other areas.
“One upcoming project will be to aid Nettleton in their project of building a playground,” Watkins said. “We are so excited to be asked to help and have the chance to meet lots of interesting people that day. They (council members) are also planning to help with the upcoming (Chickasaw County) Relay for Life.”
Networking with other councils and outside projects provides the members another opportunity to grow as individuals.
“The members have the chance to meet the leaders of this state from the local level to the state capital and even the national leaders,” Watkins said. “There are also opportunties to meet business people and people who can help them form their futures.”
Bringing it all home
Although the Youth Council has great potential for growth and expansion, the bottom line for members is the need to take care of their community.
“An important part of community service is giving back to the town and cleaning up and making our town look nice for visitors to come through,” Jackson said. ” My favorite was making food for the elderly in our town and going out and giving it to them. To see their sweet faces light up. The Youth Council helps out children to try to change the environment around them and make them better, caring people. The Town of Woodland might be a small town but it has a big heart for caring for people and making people feel special.”
Following the example of the Golden Rule is key for White.
“If you do good things for people, good things will come to you in return,” he said.