Hawkinsville teenager uses leadership skills to mentor middle school girls

December 15, 2016


By Ashleigh Austel

It is no secret that middle school is a time of tumultuous change and transition for young people. Hawkinsville High School junior Lizzy Gainous wants to help make that transition a little easier.

Last year, Gainous participated in the Pulaski Tomorrow Youth Leadership Academy. Her involvement in the class inspired her to take the skills she learned and apply them to something she is passionate about – mentorship of middle school girls.

Leadership development has been a priority for Hawkinsville-Pulaski County since it became an Archway Partnership community in 2009. The community formed the Pulaski Tomorrow organization as a direct response to this focus on leadership.

Michelle Elliott, Pulaski County Archway Professional and Pulaski Tomorrow facilitator, says, “The need to identify and train new and emerging leaders from all segments of Pulaski County is critical to the success and work of the Archway Partnership, and the community overall.”

When Gainous found Girl Talk, she knew that starting a chapter in Hawkinsville would be the perfect way to put her plan into action. Girl Talk is an international nonprofit that provides free resources for high school girls to start peer-to-peer mentorship programs of middle school girls in their area.

To start a chapter, Gainous completed an application and presented it to the middle school principal for approval to receive the Girl Talk resources.

Gainous believes that peer-to-peer mentorship is important because it creates a connection that allows the younger girls to feel understood.

“We (high school girls) have been in the exact same place they are and have recently been through what they’re going through. I think we can connect with them on that level better than adults can,” Gainous explained.

Gainous says that her experience with the Youth Leadership Academy has made a huge impact in her life and her journey of starting a Girl Talk chapter.

“The youth leadership program taught me not to be afraid to take charge and actually do something – to take action,” Gainous said.

The Pulaski Tomorrow Youth Leadership Academy began in 2014. It utilizes the Youth Leadership in Action curriculum created by the UGA Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. The program sessions are based on individual leadership, collective leadership and community leadership.

Superintendent Jane Dollie Williams was instrumental in creating a program that would focus on developing younger high school students. She saw the importance of getting students into the leadership class early in their high school career, in order for them to have time to implement the things they would learn.

“These students are already leaders when they start, but they are even more so when they are finished with the program,” Williams said.

The Youth Leadership Academy is generously supported by the Pulaski County School System. Additional local sponsors provide the funds for students to be able to participate free of charge. This year’s sponsors are: Central Georgia Technical College, Hollingsworth and Vose, Planters First Bank, ECP, Eldercare, Hawkinsville Rotary Club, Pulaski Tomorrow and Complete Graphic Solutions (in-kind sponsor).

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