SEBRING — Young people across Highlands County spent their summer making a difference in the community and around the world; they taught English in South Korea, attended basic training in the Florida National Guard and competed against adults in a fishing tournament and came out winners.
Many students in Highlands County demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and chose to make their summers away from school count. Here are a few stories of outstanding students, ranging in age from elementary- to college-age students.
A group of students from Bible Fellowship Church spent two years preparing for their summer trip to South Korea, which lasted from July 12 to Aug. 6. Paul and Helen Shoemaker led the group of students that included Xandriana Thompson, Grace Duncan, Luke Laschkewitsch, Andrew Livingston, Gavin Glisson, Aaron Murray, Lena Horton, Kailey Swaine and Lydia Sager.
The group’s first stop in South Korea was Isaac’s Children Home, for children ages 3 to 18. Then they traveled to Word of Life Bible Institute (WOLBI) on Jeju Island and helped teach English to South Korean students at a Christian camp. The youth had to sleep on the floor, eat different foods and spend almost one month away from their parents. Before leaving South Korea, the group also went to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
“There was a lot of security at the DMZ,” Glisson said. “I felt like I might make someone angry and go to jail.”
However, Glisson’s favorite part of the trip was worshiping God with the South Koreans at the English camp. “When missionaries from Uganda came to my church, it made me feel like I needed to go and do something for God to spread the gospel,” he said. “Even if I am not a full-time missionary in the future, I can go on short-term mission trips like this.”
“I met so many wonderful people, and they really have impacted me,” Horton said. “Going to Korea is a lifetime experience that I will never forget.”
Besides spending time around the world, some college students returned home to Highlands County to spend time with their families. Nala Price spent six weeks attending summer classes at the University of Central Florida before heading home. While visiting with her parents, she also sang two days at the Lake Placid Caladium Festival.
“I sang a 30-minute set at the festival, and I got to sing one of my favorite songs, ‘One and Only’ by Adele,” Price said. “I also sang at the Immovable Worship Night held at the Genesis Center on Aug. 4.”
Price is trying to relax for the rest of the summer before heading back to audition for the fall productions of the theater programs at UCF.
Music seemed to be a common thread for students and summer activities. Phebe, Catherine and Eddie Sager are known as the Three Strings, and they play at local events. Phebe, 16, plays the cello, Catherine, 14, plays the violin and Eddie, 13, plays the viola. This summer they honed their skills at various music camps, including the Masterworks Festival in South Carolina for two weeks. At this festival they had an opportunity to learn from some of the most talented musicians in their field, including Anne Martindale Williams, the principal cellist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
The Mike Block String Camp proved challenging for the Sager trio, because they were not allowed to use any sheet music at this camp. They had to learn the music by ear and memorize everything, improving their improvisational skills and their ability to make music.
Lantana, Mandolin and Vidalia Turner also attended a music camp, the Sandy Music Girls Camp. In addition, the Turner family participated in Vacation Bible School, and they enjoyed scalloping and fishing at Crystal River.
Brooke Clark, although only 17 years old, attended basic training with the Florida National Guard this summer. She will return for her senior year of high school one week late since she is on government orders. Her graduation from basic training is on Friday, Aug. 17 in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
After her high school graduation, she will complete phase two of Advanced Individual Training, where she will learn her military job. Her education will be paid for by the Army National Guard. She will spend two weeks each summer and one weekend a month serving her country, unless she is deployed overseas. Clark is dedicated to preparing for her future and serving other people.
Finn Taylor, 12, and Tucker Cronin, 14, competed in the Highlands County Bass Club fishing tournament on Aug. 5. Although they competed against adults, the pair’s excellent teamwork enabled them to win biggest bass and best overall weight. They plan to use their tournament winnings to enter more tournaments.
“This was the second tournament we entered,” Taylor said. “I thought we had a good chance of winning at this one, because we caught two really big fish.”
Cronin purchased a boat at the beginning of the summer, refurbished it and then used the boat to win the tournament. “Finn and I communicate the same,” Cronin said. “If I get a fish, he will drop the fishing pole and grab the net. I do the same for him.”
The love of water brought over a dozen students together this summer to participate in the Highlands Hurricane Swim Team. True dedication motivated students to wake up early and arrive at the YMCA pool in Sebring by 6:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday and practice for an hour and a half. On Friday students practiced dives, turns and starts at the Avon Park High School pool. Youth from all over the county participated in the program.
Wyatt Lundy, a member of the Highlands Hurricane Team, felt like the team became a second family for him, and he plans to swim with them for as long as he can.
Joshua Fearless, a 15-year-old Avon Park High School student, shared similar sentiments. “The swim team creates bonds with swimmers from other high school teams,” he said. Besides being a part of the Hurricanes, Fearless is also a member of the APHS swim team.
Not content with the mandatory one practice a day, Fearless joined a few other members of the Hurricanes team and swam an extra session in the afternoon. Fearless improved his swim time over the summer and placed third overall in the Senior Boys division at a Lakeland swim meet.
School starts Monday in Highlands County.