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Emerging Public Leaders showcase public service projects

Last updated May 16, 2018

By Tina Underwood

High school students who have a bent toward careers in public service need not wait till finishing formal education to try their hand in servant leadership. In fact, rising high school seniors can get a taste of public life through the Riley Institute’s Emerging Public Leaders (EPL) program.

Chosen by application and high school recommendation, 18 seniors spent a week over the summer on the Furman campus where they investigated topics like engaging in the community, analyzing critical issues, practicing ethical leadership, developing communication and presentation skills, building diversity awareness and planning for the implementation of a service project.

Established in 2003, EPL has seen 255 students come through the program. Students participate in EPL at no cost thanks to sponsors including Cox Industries, the Pazdan family, the Riley Institute at Furman, State Farm and Walmart.

Following the week-long, summertime workshop, students collaborate with Riley Institute staff, school officials, and residents in their communities to flesh out their service project ideas, then they implement projects that address local needs.

The 2017-18 EPL class returned to campus April 28 to showcase their public service projects before a panel of judges, and compete for monetary awards to build upon the projects. Said EPL program director Melanie Armstrong, “Each project was outstanding. Every student worked hard and used his or her passion to create and lead a service project that changed lives and made South Carolina a better place to live.”

The EPL students for 2017-18 receiving special recognition are:

First Place

Jennie Allen, Union County High School, Union, South Carolina. Allen received a $500 award for creating teacher and parent/student packets about medical homebound instruction. She also led a professional development presentation for faculty members at Union County High to offer ways to improve homebound services for both the student and teacher, and to expose those with no experience in homebound instruction to this mode of learning. Said Allen, “Working on this project solidified my choice to pursue a career in education and helped me uncover the passion I have for education.”

Second Place

Duncan Winburn, Westwood High School, Blythewood, S.C. Winburn received a $300 award to build on “Star Day,” a program he created that celebrates special education students and the arts. For the event, which drew 100 participants, arts students taught special education students how to dance, sing, sculpt, improvise, and make and perform puppetry. While Star Day took months of planning and logistics, Winburn said, “Seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, especially the students in special ed, made all the effort worth it.” The project also generated ongoing dialogue between special education students and their regular education counterparts. Star Day was voted to become an annual event at Westwood High.

Third Place

Mary Laurel Patrick, Greenville Senior High Academy, Greenville, South Carolina. Patrick received a $200 award for her role in creating the Juanita Butler Garden at the Juanita Butler Community Center. With a goal to establish a sustainable garden, Patrick worked with volunteers, friends, family and “curious” neighborhood children to build raised beds. That project evolved into a gardening club at the center where Patrick now meets with children to teach them about gardening, composting and the benefits of fresh produce. Her efforts have become an integral part of the Juanita Butler Center as well as Greenville’s Greater Sullivan Neighborhood. Said Patrick, “The Riley Institute and the EPL program have encouraged me to make a difference in my community and finally transform my vision for a community garden to reality.”

Honorable Mention winners each received an award of $100 to further their projects. They are:

Farehaa Hussain, Riverside High School, Greer, South Carolina, Public speaking empowerment at Riverside High

Manning Snyder, Porter Gaud, Charleston, South Carolina, Book Sale for Charleston Freedom School, and building awareness of Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM)

Erica Daly, Fort Mill High School, Tega Cay, South Carolina, “Mentoring Future Women Leaders”

For more information, contact Melanie Armstrong at 864-294-3688 and

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