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Posted: October 9, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Local teens take leadership roles throughout the state

Terri Kimble/

4-H'er Michelle Lewis, an 8th grader at Cousins, is congratulated by Mary Lathem, an Eastside freshman, on her election to the Northwest Junior 4-H Board of Directors.

Middle and high school 4-H’ers in Newton County are members of Sigma Lambda Chi 4-H.

While a lot of kids seem to believe 4-H is just for fifth graders, this name brings forward the emphasis on service, leadership, and citizenship in 4-H.

Three Newton County 4-H’ers are currently serving in district or state roles, developing leadership skills in an even bigger way.

Michelle Lewis serves on the Northwest District Junior Board of Directors, planning district events for junior 4-H’ers (seventh and eighth graders) and assisting at area and district events.

The eighth grader from Cousins was elected last spring at Rock Eagle by her peers from the 39-county district.

Lewis said she has been surprised at the number of comments from both other youth and adults during her term as she sees them at district and state events.

"I was surprised at how many people actually look up to us," she said.

Over the summer Lewis attended a statewide training for new officers which included team-building, public speaking, etiquette and other leadership topics.

"I’m not as scared when I talk in front of people," said Lewis, which is handy since she will now address groups as large as 1,000 people at Rock Eagle.

She said they learned to "focus on one person and to look at the next sentence before you read it," and to speak more slowly.

Lewis plans to be a veterinarian and will compete in the veterinary science project this year.

Another 4-H’er who is no stranger to the stage is Eastside freshman Mary Lathem.

Lathem auditioned for and was accepted to the statewide 4-H performing arts group, Clovers and Company, in the fifth grade and has been singing her way across the southeast ever since.

Famous alumni from the group include Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland and country singer Brandi Thornton.

"We all have to work together to make the show flow," said Lathem about teamwork among the singers, instrumentalists and dancers in the show.

"Everybody gets about the same amount of stage time, and we all have a great time," she said.

The group’s next performance will be at the Georgia National Fair in Perry on October 18, but they can also be found singing anywhere from the Georgia coast to Texas throughout the year.

In addition to her performing role with Clovers, Lathem also served on last year’s district board of directors and was the local honoree for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

She isn’t sure of the job she wants but said she wants to do something with chemistry, and maybe write scripts and compose on the side.

Lathem joins fellow Newton 4-H’er Ken Galloway this year on the Georgia 4-H Technology Team.

Computers may often be thought of as a solitary activity, with people stranded by behind anonymous computer screens, but the 4-H Tech Team is all about teamwork.

The high school members from across the state gather twice a year for retreats at UGA and Rock Eagle, then work primarily through Web meetings the remainder of the year.

"I’ve learned more of how to handle situations with teams," said Galloway, an Eastside sophomore. "We do a lot of teambuilding exercises."

One of his favorite teambuilding activities last year involved turning tissue paper, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, and fire into functional hot air balloons.

Or attempting to make them functional, as Galloway said his team’s attempts "both exploded."

Galloway said he wants "to be able to encourage kids to go into music" as a band director, and has a special interest in marching bands.

He can be found on the field with the marching Eagles on game nights throughout the fall, leading his section as an officer.

Youth are not the only Newton 4-H’ers representing the county. Volunteer leaders Doug and Elaine Kimble currently serve on the Georgia 4-H Volunteer Leader Association as fundraising chairs.

The association encourages county 4-H volunteers to network with each other at district and state 4-H events, and raises funds to support 4-H activities and scholarships.

Doug is a Newton 4-H alumni, and both Doug and Elaine are active members of the Georgia Master 4-H Club.

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