Four Madison County, Georgia students traveled to Indianapolis recently and walked away with the fifth-place plaque in the National FFA Poultry evaluation "Career Development Event" (CDE).
"We all truly wanted it," said team member Isabelle Williams, who was named the high individual in the written exam. "We wanted to win, and we worked so much with each other that we knew what we were good at, what we struggled with, and how to help each other through challenges."
Williams was joined by George Parham, Devin Self, and Joshua Black, who was named high individual in the shell egg grading for interior and exterior factors.
Participants in the poultry CDE select live meat-type chickens for broiler breeding, evaluate and place live egg-type hens, and rate the finished product by evaluating and grading ready-to-cook carcasses and parts of chickens and turkeys.
The Madison County team members got a boost from HireSmart Cares, which helped cover their travel expenses. HireSmart assists the next generation of farmers in a variety of ways, including covering travel costs for students to agriculture-related competitions.
HireSmart Cares recently donated $50,000 to the Madison County FFA to expand the high school ag barn, allowing more students who don't live on farms to raise livestock and learn career skills in ag.
Williams, who is interested in becoming a large animal veterinarian, said poultry judging success is about "paying attention to the small details" and helping each other.
"That's the big factor in poultry judging — picking out all the defects from various poultry products," she said. "We have to judge individually, but then we would all share our suggestions on ways to improve and avoid missing things."
Williams said participation in ag activities helps youth understand all the work that goes into food production, which she said is often overlooked.
HireSmart hopes to raise awareness of the need for a new generation of farmers. "No farms = No food" is a succinct message that strikes home for HireSmart co-founders Mark and Anne Lackey, who commit to doing whatever they can to support youth and their ag career development.
If you support that aim, consider donating to HireSmart's ag initiative here.
HireSmart Supports Top FFA Ag Communications Team in the U.S.
Katie Carrouth and her teammates, Abbi Adams, Anna Moon, and Anna Kate Mathis, laugh at the video of their surprised faces when they learned that, "Yes!" they're the best in the nation.
The Madison County FFA Ag Communications team earned first in the U.S. at the 96th Annual National FFA Convention and Expo.
"All of us were so shocked, and since then, we've all re-watched the clip so many times, just laughing at our own expressions," said Carrouth. "It was super sweet to have that moment filmed so we can all remember it."
Adams, who placed sixth overall in the individual competition, said the moment was intense.
"To me, it felt we were the only people in the room," she said. "All of my senses were both heightened and subdued at the exact same moment. It was a feeling I had never felt before. When they announced the second-place team and we realized we had won, I remember a feeling of shock. It wasn't until we left the stage that my sobs began, and I realized my hands were numb from stress."
The quartet got a boost from HireSmart Cares, a nonprofit focused on helping youth develop job skills, which provided grants for Madison County FFA members, including the ag communications team, to cover costs associated with the trip.
A primary focus of HireSmart is encouraging youth involvement in agriculture, which involves spreading the word about career options and the relevance of ag in so many aspects of life.
That's also the focus of ag communications teams — providing the public with a greater understanding of agriculture.
Adams, a student at Wesleyan College majoring in English education and minoring in communications, said the importance of ag communications often goes overlooked.
"Without agricultural communications, nobody would know anything relating to the agriculture industry," she said. "'Ag Comm' hopes to create advocacy and transparency. It is important for the future of the agriculture industry as it will help connect consumers to farms and major corporations."
Carrouth, a singer/songwriter and music producer getting a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Georgia College and State University, said the agricultural communications focus in high school "allowed me to branch out and try more things that challenged me which has helped tremendously at college."
She wasn't raised on a farm, "so I always felt a bit left out of that sector," but she has relatives and peers in agriculture.
"I saw the need for bridging the gap between non-traditional and traditional agriculturalists through activities of the FFA such as the agricultural communications CDE," said Carrouth.
She added that reaching consumers to educate them about agriculture is "one of the most important things for the agriculture industry to focus on."
Adams and Carrouth said the team's first-place finish in the U.S. was a byproduct of the companionship they felt as they worked toward a shared goal.
"The four-person team dynamic is really special because it allows four separate approaches to creativity to be combined into one cohesive project," said Carrouth. "This competition is a lot of work and has many parts to complete, so having a team like ours is super important. As far as taking first place, I feel that it comes down to our passion for it. We all wanted to do well, so we put every ounce of effort we could into it. We are also very good friends, so teamwork skills came naturally."
Adams said the "contest brought us closer than we ever imagined."
"While we worked through every step of the way, we understand each other as well as the vision we hoped to create," she said. "We practiced compassion while simultaneously holding each other accountable… We wanted to keep practicing and tweaking the fine details because we wanted to be the best, and we didn't quite know what that meant at a national level. We all care about this contest so incredibly much. We didn't only want to win for ourselves; we wanted to win for each other."
HireSmart Cares applauds the FFA team for their commitment to each other and their hard work toward a shared goal. If you have a workforce development idea and would like to share it with us, email email@example.com. To contribute to our efforts to help today's youth be tomorrow's leaders, click here.
Humans need four walls and a roof, food, running water, electricity, and furniture.
Each generation must meet the hands-on demands of supplying such things, and HireSmart Cares wants today’s kids to have the tools and teaching they need to be self-sufficient in meeting society’s basic needs in the future.
That’s why HireSmart funds U.S. agricultural initiatives, helping the next wave of farmers who will put food on our plates with scholarships, grants, program funding, and more.
HireSmart also supports U.S. workforce development in the same way: putting quality boots on the feet of high school graduates entering the workforce, providing scholarships for students going into trades programs, backing young entrepreneurs with seed money for their business plans, and more. It’s all part of the “leave-it-better-than-you-found-it” approach to the world that underpins HireSmart’s core values.
The nonprofit also supports local construction teachers with funding to supplement their classes with construction materials, tools, and funding for travel so students can broaden their perspectives on their options.
Madison County High School construction teacher Zach Carithers and Jackson County College & Career Center construction teacher Cody Dyer were both presented with $2,000 checks from HireSmart to help their students this school year.
Students in Carithers’ and Dyer’s classes participate in Skills USA competitions, where they get a chance to shine, show what they’ve learned in construction class, and gain confidence that they can venture into adulthood with solid, hands-on skills, such as plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, welding, and more.
Both teachers expressed gratitude to HireSmart for the grants they're using to cover membership costs, entry fees, and lodging for students participating in regional, state, and national Skills USA competitions.
Some students come from tough situations, and the skills they learn can be a ticket out of financial hardship. The boost from HireSmart helps such kids make that connection between learning and living a good life. Dyer recalled one financially challenged student walking to the school in the early morning darkness to meet the group that assembled pre-dawn for a Skills USA event. Dyer was struck by his commitment to be a part of the program, even without transportation.
“He was the first kid there; he was waiting on us when we got there,” he said.
Dyer said there’s a mix of talent levels in his classes.
“You have a wide range, and we have some kids who never use a hammer and some kids who have used power tools on their dad’s farm for forever,” he said.
Construction is taught in three levels, with students learning the basics in “Construction 1."
Carithers said he holds “Math Mondays” with beginning students, who learn about measuring principles and see how math is fundamental to all building. Students also use hand tools to build birdhouses.
“Now we’re doing power tools,” he said. “They (the students) had 1’-by-1’ sheets of plywood, and they cut them into a jigsaw puzzle.”
Carithers said his intermediate students are working on home construction.
“We built mini houses, 4’-by-3’ tall walls on a platform floor and then gable roofs,” he said. “But I gave each one of them a pitch, so they all had to figure out the pitch of the roof to figure out how to cut the rafters.”
He said his “Construction 3” class works on more challenging projects.
“We’re going to build three 8-foot walls, one with a door, one with a window, and one with a partition,” said Carithers. “And then we’re going to sheath one of them- can’t afford to sheath them all- and put siding on that one wall and shingles on that one part.”
The construction teacher said his class is working with Madison County’s JROTC program to put up a 14’-by-14’ foot shed for the JROTC.
“We’ll put the footings in, build the flooring, put walls up, tin the roof, everything,” he said. “So that’s a huge opportunity. Our kids get to practice. It will take us two weeks.”
Dyer said he loves seeing students have fun in his class and learn new skills.
“We worked with a table saw today, and we’re going to build a star,” said Dyer. “We’ll take a miter saw and cut it at certain angles, then put it together, and it makes a star. It’s pretty cool. You can hang it on the wall.”
Carithers and Dyer envision their students taking their skills beyond high school toward productive lives, providing four walls and a roof, food, running water, electricity, and furniture for themselves, their loved ones, and our society. HireSmart Cares pictures this, too, and is dedicated to helping kids help themselves, hoping those students will also strive to leave the world better than they found it.
If you have an idea about how HireSmart Cares can support the next generation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more about us at hiresmartcares.org.
Jeremiah Weaver marched across the graduation stage in May and took his high school diploma in hand. Soon, he had a sizable paycheck in his possession, too.
The 18-year-old Madison County High School graduate is working nights at Caterpillar, the world's largest manufacturer of construction equipment.
"I like it," he said. "It's something new. We build upper frames for the 308 excavators."
Jeremiah got a financial boost before he started his Caterpillar career with a "Workforce Development Grant" from HireSmart Cares that provided funds for quality work boots.
"They're good boots," he said. "I wear them eight hours a day, every day."
Jeremiah says each shift starts with a safety meeting.
"And then you go set up your area, and you build your part, which is your upper frame, and weld everything together, and then you push it through a robot," he said. "There's a post where you build the part and tack everything together, and you take the part that you tacked together and put it in the robot, and the robot does the full welds onto the part."
The recent graduate, who was introduced to welding at Madison County High School by ag teacher Joshua Daniels, says Caterpillar provides a lot of opportunities for him, but he's planning to start his own welding company in a few years.
"There are a lot of ways you can move up at Caterpillar," he said. "But I'm going to start my own welding company. I want to go to Athens Tech to get my business degree. It will probably be about five years before I can (start my business) because I want to do it right and have enough money to start it the way I want to."
Jeremiah, who likes to hunt and fish, said it feels great to earn a living right out of high school.
"It’s a good paycheck, too,” he said. “The last one was $1,400 for two weeks.”
Jeremiah’s story is exactly what HireSmart Cares hopes to see: a young person introduced to a career skill in grade school and then making the most of that knowledge with a good-paying job after graduation. HireSmart funds numerous workforce development programs, grants, and scholarships to support young people in their quest to better themselves and their communities.
Troy Hanson's family doesn't need Starbucks. No, they have a coffee whiz under their own roof. And Hanson, a rising high school sophomore, aims to make a career out of the coffee business.
"Ever since I was young, I just like making coffee and food, and I have my own little store that I have in my house," he said. "I started doing that when I was about maybe 12. My family would order something out, and I'd make it. They would order lattes, hot chocolate, cappuccinos, frappuccinos, all sorts of stuff."
Hanson, the son of Richard and Christy Hanson, plans to open his own coffee shop in a few years, and he got a big boost from HireSmart Cares recently, a $2,500 scholarship to help him get the business off the ground.
"I will use the money for probably equipment," he said. "That takes a lot of the budget. I will probably need a larger espresso machine as well as a register."
Hanson earned the scholarship by winning first place in the 2023 Madico Makers contest put on annually by the Madison County Chamber of Commerce. Young entrepreneurs in the county make a "Shark Tank" business pitch to a panel of judges. HireSmart awarded the second and third-place winners $1,000 and $500.
This year's winner presented his plans for "Anchors Café."
"I thought of Anchors because it is in the Bible meaning 'hope,'" he said. "I talked about how I would open up and who I would ask for coffee beans, who I would purchase from, and where I would set my shop up when I do."
Hanson initially plans to set up his coffee business within HomeGrown Market in Colbert, Georgia, which offers a variety of homemade items from Madison County and the State of Georgia.
"They need a person to sell sandwiches and beverages," he said. "Once it (Anchors Café) gets larger, I would think about opening up in a different building and hiring."
Hanson, who plans to study business and cooking in college, voiced his appreciation to Mark and Anne Lackey and HireSmart Cares for the scholarship.
"I would say thank you so much for this opportunity," he said. "It's greatly appreciated that you helped me as a young person to become independent and make my business a business."
HireSmart Cares actively promotes young entrepreneurship, job skills development in grade school, and financial literacy so that youth can be prepared to enter the workforce and perhaps start their own businesses directly out of high school. The organization discourages students from saddling themselves with significant college debt without a clear path to pay it off.
Hanson, who has five siblings, said his most popular item is "mainly my frappuccinos," but he said that's not what he typically drinks.
"My favorite is a flat white," he said. "A flat white is where it's mainly just espresso, and milk has barely gotten any foam."
There are many threats in the digital world, and it takes technical savvy to safeguard today's economy from malicious actors.
Remington Gurley, a 2023 high school graduate, wants to be on the front lines of that battle, and he's getting support from HireSmart Cares to prepare him for that role, receiving a $1,000 scholarship to attend the University of North Georgia, where he will major in cyber security.
Remington said a friend introduced him to the possibility of a career in digital safety.
"I knew I wanted to do something with computer science, but I didn't know what," he said. "And so my friend and somebody he knew were playing around with it one day. He said you want to join us, and I said, 'Sure." And it was super cool, the idea of ethical hacking."
Remington, a kicker on his high school football team, as well as a soccer player, has many interests, including computers, mountain biking, music, and aviation. He wants to fly planes one day.
But his faith is his central focus in life. Remington said he dedicated his life to Jesus Christ around the age of 8, and he's active at his church, Trinity Baptist, helping lead worship as a keyboardist.
"I started playing piano at age 6," he said. "I practiced and stuck with it, and I guess it's been 12 years now I've been playing."
He said playing in a praise band is different than performing alone, noting that in a band, you have to be aware of other players and not fill all the space, letting others shine musically.
Remington said he's worked at the church the past couple of years providing compter-tech, musical, and lighting assistance. He said Trinity worship leader Jeff Branson is a role model to him.
"These past couple of years, I've been hanging out with him and working with him a lot more," he said. "His impact has been huge on me. He's smart. It's very encouraging to see him lead other people. It's like, man, this is the guy I want to be like."
Remington spent several weeks after graduating high school leading worship at Camp Maranatha, where kids attend a Christian summer camp.
"To me, worship is one of the big ways you can connect and be in His presence," he said. "You feel you are with God, and I want them (the kids) to feel that feeling and to understand that the words we're seeing aren't just words on a screen. They're powerful and have meaning behind them."
While cyber security is his college major, the recent graduate doesn't close the door to a career in the ministry.
"I've had thoughts of graduating college and then maybe going into ministry somewhere," he said. "And that's one reason I enjoy leading camps and stuff in summer."
As he looks ahead, Remington knows he has the support of his parents, Todd and Brandy Gurley, who also have a daughter, Journey, an accomplished pole vaulter at Virginia Tech.
"Whatever I've wanted, my parents have always encouraged me, and their biggest thing is, 'Whatever you do, enjoy it, but also make sure you put that don't just halfway do it,'" he said. "Put 100% effort into whatever you do.'"
Remington also has the support of HireSmart Cares, which funds numerous workforce initiatives and scholarships to propel U.S. youth to a bright, productive future. The college-bound teen said he wants to repay HireSmart's generosity by giving back to his community after graduation.
"It's very encouraging and very helpful," he said of the scholarship. "College is expensive, and I hope they (HireSmart Cares) are going to be happy with what I do and happy with my success. And hopefully, after I come back, I can help in the community and give back what they gave me."
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Tony White didn’t need college to get a foot forward in life. He got a good-paying job right out of high school with a construction company operating heavy equipment. And he got a welcome boost to start his career with a grant from HireSmart Cares.
The graduate of Jackson County High School in Hoschton, Georgia studied construction under instructor Jake Slusher and learned about heavy equipment primarily on simulators. But he turned the experience into the real deal, working machinery for Snellville-based road construction company, E.R. Snell Contractor, Inc., which handles a high volume of road projects in north Georgia.
“Mr. Slusher asked me if I’d like to do the heavy equipment class, and I was like, sure,” said White. “And after I started liking it and being good at it, he was like, ‘Would you like to work with ER Snell?’”
Well, heck yeah! White jumped at the chance. Now, he’s operating a bulldozer on ER Snell road construction sites.
“I’d like to work my way up in the company,” he said. “It (ER Snell) seems like a pretty darn good company.”
He said it feels good to get a nice paycheck right out of school. And he said he hopes the money can help him develop another skill, blacksmithing. White said he plans to save up enough money to purchase tools.
“I got to get a few paychecks first,” he said.
The recent graduate expressed gratitude for the boost he received from HireSmart Cares, which provided “Workforce Development Grants” for White and 13 of his Jackson County classmates who entered the workforce or the military directly out of high school.
“It will help me get a car,” said White.
HireSmart Cares encourages youth to find a career path that doesn’t involve taking on massive college debt without a plan to pay it off. The nonprofit organization supports agricultural and vocational programs that help students find fiscally rewarding career opportunities right out of high school. If you would like to donate, we would appreciate your donation. DONATE NOW
Blake Wyatt just graduated from high school, but he's already taking big strides in the world of work.
Thanks to his new job at Georgia Metals in Danielsville, the 2023 Madison County High School graduate is earning a solid paycheck, an accomplishment not all young adults can claim so soon after high school.
"It was nice, real nice," said Blake, regarding his first paycheck from the family-owned company that specializes in manufacturing quality metal construction products. "It feels like I'm more independent now."
Blake also got a nice kickstart to his career with a "Workforce Development Grant" from HireSmart Cares, which helped him buy quality work boots, an essential part of his gear.
Blake's swift transition into the workforce is in line with HireSmart's mission: to help young people move straight into gainful employment after high school, avoiding the trap of deep college debt without a plan to pay it off. Blake shows that a good income and financial stability are achievable directly after high school.
The recent graduate emphasizes how much he's already learned in his young career.
"I've expanded my knowledge," he said. "I learned what measurements I need to know. I learned to cut metal more. I've learned a little painting here and there, and they've taught me a lot of new tools."
Blake, who studied welding at Madison County High School, has learned about "metal inert gas" (MIG) welding, but he wants to master "tungsten inert gas" (TIG) welding to advance his career.
"I want to go to Athens Tech to learn TIG welding and major in business," he said. "TIG welding jobs are among the best paying in the industry. If you can master it, you're guaranteed a spot at most any job."
Blake is also setting long-term financial goals. He recently opened a CD banking account for retirement and is saving for a truck.
The 18-year-old finds balance in his life through outdoor activities, enjoying fishing, dove hunting, and playing ball with his friends.
HireSmart celebrates the success of young professionals like Blake and aims to inspire more students to follow a similar path.
Blake said he appreciates the support from HireSmart.
"It really did help," he said. "I didn't have too much money set aside (before the job), and I was going to have to borrow money, but the grant helped me get some work boots."
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Nate Tucker is a high school senior and already living an adult grind. He works weekend nightshifts at Wendy’s, clocks in five days a week as a line support member at a Kubota plant, and maintains a high grade point average.
The 18-year-old has had some rough breaks at home over the years and was placed with family members who say he must leave their house as soon as he graduates.
“I’m having to find a new place to stay after graduation,” he said. “It’s nothing I’ve done. They just don’t want me there.”
But Nate has an advocate in his Work-Based Learning counselor, Kate Wilson, who sees a drive in the young man that many of his peers lack.
“We work with many kids who don’t care, who don’t work, and who don’t show the initiative and the drive,” she said. “They’re not dealing with half the issues in their life as Nate deals with. It is rewarding to work with students who care about their future. And it is rewarding to work with kids who work as hard as Nate works.”
Kate arranged an interview at Kubota for Nate. She said the gratitude he showed was touching. The two were walking back to the car at the plant after he got the job when Nate tapped her on the shoulder.
“He asked, ‘Can I hug you? Nobody’s ever done this for me,’” said Kate. “I think my job is important in many ways, but it’s not typically that important. To find a kid in a hard situation and put him in a job that potentially changes his life.”
Getting the Kubota job meant purchasing work boots, and not the cheap kind. Nate took his Wendy’s money and bought a good pair.
Kate asked him how he would manage financially that week.
“I’ll make do,” he said.
Kate then remembered Mark Lackey and HireSmart Cares.
“Mark came to a construction advisory committee meeting that I was also present at, and he talked about HireSmart and what the program does for students and what they’re able to sponsor,” she said.
Mark agreed to reimburse Nate for the cost of the boots, and the high schooler cashed the check a few days later.
“Because Mark acted so quickly, it really helped Nate, who is an independent 18-year-old paying for his own bills,” said Kate.
The moment highlights exactly what HireSmart Cares actually cares about - helping young people with initiative find a path to success, even if it means putting boots on their feet.
Nate said he works with power steering pumps and drive shafts at Kubota.
“With the drive shafts, you have to unwrap the covers and then get a bar code and stick into something with the driveshaft and keep up with it because if you don’t, it messes the whole thing out of the track,” he said.
Nate also enjoys chemistry and his composition class with Kenneth Powers, who said Nate shows a real drive to be his best.
“We live in an era when so many students take things for granted,” he said. “This student is not taking this for granted. He understands how important this is to his life script. This is his ticket to job satisfaction and success in life. And I think he’s going to run with it. I really do. Some people just need a little help. He’s a survivor.”
Donate And Help Kids Here.
Some students don’t speak, don’t engage, and don’t show signs of confidence in the classroom.
But when that particular child finds a special thing and is energized, talkative, and proud of what they’ve made or learned — a teacher knows he or she has made a real difference in that kid’s life.
Anja Cleveland, who works with fourth and fifth graders to construct wood products at Danielsville Elementary School in Danielsville, Georgia, sees that happen regularly, the brightness in the eyes, the silent child speaking, and the energy that comes with confidence.
Kids of various skill levels work in her classroom on collaborative projects, including a new set of picnic tables at the back of the school that are sturdy and smooth and now available for use by students and teachers for years to come.
“A lot of the kids who don’t have the academic ability have the physical abilities to do this (construction),” said Cleveland. “And it gives them a power they don’t feel they have in the classroom. It allows them to shine by just doing physical stuff.”
What Cleveland describes — a young person’s awakening to new confidence and new opportunities — is essentially the whole point of a Madison County nonprofit organization, HireSmart Cares, with a simple goal, “Helping Kids.”
Madison County residents Mark and Anne Lackey, who own multiple businesses, including HireSmart Virtual Employees and HireSmart Cares, are using funds from their other business ventures outside of the county to invest in their home community, Madison County, by providing scholarships, funds for the ag center, and money tagged for local initiatives, like Cleveland’s construction class, that help local youth learn skills that will help them in life and boost their confidence in themselves.
Mark Lackey presented Danielsville Elementary School with a $2,500 grant to help the construction program get the supplies to keep teaching kids how to use their hands to create what they want, applying math, tool skills and conceptual thinking while working as a team.
“We set up a nonprofit to do these types of things,” said Lackey to Cleveland, adding that job skill training is a primary focus of HireSmart Cares. “Our organization gives scholarships for college, but I don’t want to see kids go to college and come out with a $50,000 bill that they’re going to be paying for 30 years.”
Lackey, who wants to see youth develop career skills while still in school, was given a tour of the construction classroom and visited with the students at the picnic tables they constructed.
He chatted with the students about their handiwork and praised the group for working together to make sturdy tables that will be used for years to come. Students in Cleveland’s classes have also made birdhouses, planters for their mothers, podiums for the Special Olympics, worm boxes, corn-hole sets and more.
“Y’all are good problem solvers,” Lackey told the students when shown how they worked through inevitable snags in the process.
Cleveland teaches 30 fourth graders and 30 fifth graders per semester, so 120 students over the year. She said each student is taught the basics before beginning any projects.
The para-professional got the program going at Danielsville Elementary, the only elementary school in the county currently with such a program. The high school offers a variety of construction skill learning opportunities. But there’s no program at the middle school, and Cleveland said she wishes that could happen at some point. Because the kids in her class learn construction skills, they then have a gap of three years before they can work on that again in high school.
Her students say they have fun in her class.
“I love it,” said construction student Verona Myers. “I’ve been to three other schools. They didn’t have many fun activities like this. It’s awesome to get to do this. It gives you real-life skills like you see how math actually helps us.”
Danielsville Elementary Principal Deana Bray said the enthusiasm she sees from kids in the class is infectious, bringing joy to the staff.
“It’s just something I’m so proud of and excited that we’re making a difference and impacting and shaping their lives,” said Bray. “The joy they (the students) get because they love to surprise us (the staff). They’ll call for us, and they will have created this magnificent thing. None of this is possible without Mrs. Cleveland. It’s really not. She’s amazing.”
Cleveland, Bray, and assistant principal Breanne Smith thanked Lackey for the grant for the program.
“OMG, can I hug you? Thank you!” said Cleveland to Lackey when shown the check.
Donate And Help Kids Here.