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Mississippi Scholars program needs volunteers and donors

Just 11 years ago, 28 area high school seniors received recognition as Lincoln County Mississippi Scholars. On the 10th anniversary last year, 185 students walked away with that title and honor.

This year, volunteer Kenny Goza expects that number to stay the same, but he wouldn’t mind if it grew a little. Or a lot.

“That’s about 35 percent of how many graduate each year,” said Goza, who helped start the program with Kay Burton in 2005. “We’d love to get above 50 percent. It would be a challenge for us, but I wish it was more.”

In the program, administered statewide by the Mississippi Economic Council and locally by the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, students are encouraged to take more challenging courses that will better prepare them for the future. Students must take a rigorous course of study, attend class regularly, score well on the ACT and do community service to be designated as Mississippi Scholars.

Goza is rounding up volunteers to make presentations to students in grades eight through 11 and securing tax-deductible donations from generous individuals, businesses and groups to be used for scholarships.

“We have a wonderful group of supporters,” he said. “The volunteers we have to do presentations, the people who give us money and support our program, we couldn’t do it without them.”

The program gets students career ready, so that they slide easily from high school graduation to a college or technical school because of the advanced curriculum they’ve already mastered. But it’s not just about studies, Goza said.

“In the process of talking about course of study, we talk to them about work ethic,” he said. “We’re not working to find them a job. We’re working to find them a career, which in turn helps our community.”

He said the program has grown because superintendents and principals “buy into it” and support the program. Students also see the success of their peers so they work to receive the distinguished honor.

In 2015, the program expanded its focus to incorporate technical areas as well as college prep with the Mississippi Tech Master Scholars program. Goza said this addition has proved itself to be beneficial to even more students. Students can go to a four-year college, a two-year college or technical school. The academic rigor and requirements of both programs better prepares the student for post-graduate life, whether they are headed to a university or a technical career, he said.

The program works because it gets high school students focused on what it takes to have successful careers — getting up early,  being disciplined, and getting involved with serving their community, he said.

Volunteers are needed now to make presentations at area schools. Donations are also needed for scholarships. For more information call 601-757-3361, 757-8356 or 601-695-8123.

A reception to honor this year’s Lincoln County Scholars will be April 23 at 2 p.m. at Easthaven Baptist Church.

Kenny Goza

Kenny Goza