April 2, 2013 10:09:02 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Her resumé reads like a page-long listing in Who's Who Among American High School Students.
Senior class president. Class favorite. Most beautiful. Homecoming queen. Honor roll student. Cheerleader. She leads Heritage Academy's Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is vice-president of the Beta Club. She is the All-American girl-next-door.
Reade Heredia, 18, is also this year's youth recipient of the 2013 Governor's Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award. When the announcement was made last week, the only person taken by surprise was the honoree.
That's Reade's style, people say. Her mind is so wrapped around the good in others that she rarely takes time to notice the good within herself. Already a leader among her peers, she never forgets that eyes are always upon her. As a role model, her comportment must be exemplary.
And so she digs, deep into the recesses of memory, deep into the scripture of the Bible she cherishes, and she finds the subtext she needs to write the path for others.
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It is hard to imagine Reade being anything but, well, Reade.
With her long, chestnut hair and thick bangs fringing green eyes, she can sometimes seem serious, but a smile is always lurking and friends and family know the truth -- beneath the maturity lies a free-spirited, goofy teenager who dances to her own music and is very much her own person.
That was not always the case, Reade says quietly Monday afternoon. As an elementary school student at Annunciation Catholic School, she was painfully shy. She often longed for her classmates to draw her from her shell, invite her into their circle. They never did.
Such are the vagaries of playground politics, but in the crucible of the classroom, a leader was born.
She never wanted another child to feel left out, like they didn't fit in. And so, when no one reached out to her, she reached out to others in whose eyes she saw her own reflection. The quiet ones, the shy ones, the uneasy ones, the outcasts. She touched them all.
She is an "includer," says Trey Skaggs, director of student ministries at First United Methodist Church. She has a way of comforting younger children, drawing them both to her and to Christ.
Last summer, during a youth retreat, nearly 85 children gathered to talk about their faith. They were reticent, hesitant to be the first to speak. So Reade grabbed the microphone -- for herself, for her peers, for those who could not find their voice.
"Sometimes kids can be on the outside, looking in," Skaggs says. "She tries to make everyone feel like they're on the inside. She practices what she preaches, and kids see that she's genuine. They trust in that."
Her popular status at school has served as a platform for good, says Leslie Peel, community volunteer coordinator for the United Way of Lowndes County. It is peer pressure of the positive persuasion.
"I can testify that every girl in the school admires Reade," Peel wrote when nominating her for the governor's award. "When she gives them advice to make good decisions and that you do not have to bow down to peer pressure, they are going to listen and hopefully realize that one can be popular, well-liked and admired without participating in destructive behavior that many do in an effort to fit in."
It's difficult, this business of trying to be a good example for others, Reade says. But in taking on the mantle of role model, she found herself.
What she discovered is the heart of servant leadership.
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It is not new, this notion of leading others by heart rather than hand. In the 1970s, writer and management consultant Robert K. Greenleaf penned an essay, "The Servant as Leader," that would spawn a movement.
In it, he reasoned that great organizations had able leaders who acted as supportive coaches, understanding that they existed as much to serve the employees as the employees existed to serve them.
But though Greenleaf coined the phrase, "servant leadership," the philosophy was outlined centuries ago in both the Tao Te Ching and the Bible.
In the New International Version of Mark 10:42-45, Jesus tells his disciples: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Reade calls upon a different scripture, Luke 12:48 (NIV): "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
And so she gives, freely.
She has led her senior class on a year-long fund drive for the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, raising more than $4,000 through a series of quirky initiatives like "No Shave November" and "Valentine's Dress Down Day," during which students gave cash donations for permission to shirk the school dress code.
She remains troubled -- and humbled -- by a church mission trip to Appalachia, Ky., where she prayed among children who owned only one set of threadbare clothing. She has volunteered with her youth group at Blair Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson and at soup kitchens in Kentucky and Columbus.
This summer, between high school and college at the University of Mississippi, she plans to volunteer at the Humane Society, working at the new building which she had a part, albeit small, in helping fund.
Then, there was the trip to deliver bean bags to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus. First United Methodist had learned that the children needed comfortable seating for their makeshift reading room. But when they delivered the items, Reade noticed something: The shelves were almost bare, with only a few musty volumes of out-of-date encyclopedias.
For a book-lover, the idea was too much to bear. She wrote letters to Heritage Elementary, Heritage Academy, Annunciation Catholic School and First United Methodist Church, soliciting gently-used books. On her next trip to the Boys and Girls Club, she was able to deliver 600 books to fill their library.
"She has a big heart and a generous spirit and wants to improve the world," Peel says. "When somebody like that steps out, it catches on. She lights a fire for other people by setting an example."
Reade sees volunteerism with an almost childlike purity. She speaks of her parents, Kenny and Michelle Heredia, and the love and support that has surrounded her since the day she entered this world.
"I know how blessed and fortunate I am," she says softly. "I want to be able to share that with others and give back to the community. To whom much is given, much will be expected. And I think that's very true of volunteerism."
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.