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.”
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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.
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Masi Gaither’s candles are meant for the nose and eyes, but they tempt the taste buds.
"My biggest seller is my banana pudding,” said the owner of Hitchcock Confectionary Candles in Augusta, Georgia. “It has a banana slice and a vanilla wafer in there. It’s all wax. My second best-seller is strawberry cheesecake. And then I have brownies."
HireSmart Cares helps young entrepreneurs like Gaither, a 2022 high school graduate, bring savory smells, sumptuous barbecue sauces, or whatever business hopes they have from dream to reality.
That’s why Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees and its sister nonprofit organization, HireSmart Cares, gave Gaither seed money for her fledging commercial operation.
“By 12 years old, I had four businesses,” said Mark. “I’ve always had the mindset of starting and doing things. I drive Anne crazy with ideas. And some of those kids out there remind me of me.”
Mark and Anne want to see the entrepreneurial spirit passed from generation to generation. That’s why they’re glad to provide financial support to Gaither and others, just a little boost to help young self-starters carve their place in the market.
But running a business takes much more than an idea. There’s putting together a business plan, a budget, a marketing plan, and a personnel policy and then carrying through on all the daily details. It’s work, but there’s also a huge potential reward. HireSmart drives home a simple message to young business hopefuls — look at the big picture and the details, then give it a go. Don’t be afraid!
“HireSmart really helped a lot,” she said. “I was able to use the funding to elevate my business more by getting more materials to make my inventory. I was very grateful for them to give me that opportunity.”Gaither said she’s thrilled to get the support from HireSmart.
Gaither’s business is currently a part-time commitment. The newlywed also works as a receptionist at a pediatric office in Augusta. However, she's hoping to make the candle enterprise a full-time job.
"I work on my business all the time," she said. "But I would like for this to be my full-time commitment. I work on it when I can."
She aims to provide non-toxic candles in the candle industry, a market dominated by big companies that sell candles from paraffin wax, which she said isn’t healthy.
"I use coconut soy wax, and all of my candles are vegan," she says. "I really wanted to hit that target audience.”
Her inspiration came from her mother and grandmother.
“They love anything that smells good, candles, perfume, anything,” she said.
Gaither wanted to create something different, and that's when the idea of dessert candles came to her.
"I just wanted to be different when it came to how I presented it," she said. "That’s what inspired me to do the dessert candles. It smells exactly how it looks.”
Like you want to eat it.
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For Madison Samples, “Maw Maw” lives on in the kitchen.
The high school junior stood by her late great-grandmother for years, learning how to make an oven offer its best gifts — a red velvet or coconut cake, a pie, or any number of sweets that make dieters abandon self-discipline for delight.
She wants to start a bakery in her hometown inspired by her Maw Maw’s teachings when she’s done with culinary studies at a local technical school.
Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Cares, want to see Madison and other youth find business success. So, they’re spreading plenty of seed money for future businesses, including a sizable scholarship for Madison, the first-place winner in her hometown “MadicoMaker” entrepreneurial contest. Those funds will help the baker get her business going when she’s ready.
“The scholarship through MadicoMakers helped me by giving me some money guaranteed to start my business after college,” said Madison. “It may not be enough to completely pay for my starting cost, but it is a good start that I would not have had without the scholarship. I’m grateful for the money that will guarantee a start to my business.”
Of course, Mark and Anne are well-versed in business startup challenges. Mark was a business owner by age 12. He’s always looked for business ideas, and he’s the big-picture “wouldn’t-this-be-cool?” dreamer of HireSmart, while his wife, Anne, is the “make-it-happen” half of the duo.
It’s a prolific pair. The Lackeys own seven successful businesses and want to pass what they’ve learned to the next generation while giving a financial boost to young entrepreneurs like Madison aiming to find a place in the world.
Madison is laying the groundwork for the bakery while still in high school, studying culinary arts at the Broad River College and Career Academy in Danielsville, Georgia. She’ll continue those studies at Athens Tech after high school.
“I don’t want to go to a university because I don’t feel like I need that, but I want to go to Athens Tech, because they have a really good culinary program,” she said. “And then I want to open up a bakery in the county.”
The teen said she sees a need for her Maw Maw’s Bakery in her hometown.
“Madison County only has a few actual stand-alone bakeries, and most of the sweet stuff in the county would be at places like Ingles,” said Madison. “You need homemade bakeries where you would get things like your grandma’s or something. So I wanted to take my baking skills and apply it to the county.”
The future business owner said her red velvet cake is tough to resist.
“My all-time favorite would be red velvet cake because it’s so good,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing personally to eat, so it’s my favorite to make, too.”
“Maw Maw” passed away in 2021. Madison, who first began learning to bake at age 8, said she wants to honor her great-grandmother’s memory with her business.
“When I got the chance to do the (MadicoMakers) competition, I wanted to dedicate it towards her since she was my inspiration,” she said.
Madison County Chamber of Commerce Director Anna Strickland, who has featured Madison’s baking at Chamber events, said HireSmart’s support of young entrepreneurs is heartwarming and a good investment in the next generation.
“The Chamber is proud to provide a platform for business leaders to support the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said Strickland. “We are excited that HireSmart has decided to invest in the future of our business community through their support of this program.”
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