Madison County High School student Gavin Heath lives in a subdivision in Hull, but he's learning to be a farmer as he cares for pigs "Tom and Jerry" at the MCHS ag barn. 

The freshman loves the camaraderie with other students at the facility who also care for show animals. 

"It's a family we've created at the barn," said Heath. "It's an awesome work environment. They're great kids to hang out with, and it's a great agricultural community." 

Heath's group of ag-minded friends at the barn will soon double thanks to a $50,000 grant from HireSmart Cares, a Madison County-based nonprofit focused on supporting career development opportunities for local youth. The money will be used to expand and renovate the barn before the start of the next school year. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential    

"This renovation will allow us to double the amount of students we're serving and double the amount of livestock projects that we can hold here (the barn)," said MCHS ag teacher Cindy Jones, who said the barn currently serves 12-to-15 students. "And it's just touching more lives and changing more lives." 

Heath said he's eager to see more students who don't live on farms be able to raise livestock. 

"This is an opportunity for kids like me who don't live out on land and live in a neighborhood," he said. "This is giving us an opportunity to truly grow our agricultural experiences." 

Heath’s mom, Jenny, said her family wasn't involved in agriculture until her son, Ian, decided he wanted to show livestock. Thanks to the MCHS ag barn, Ian had a place to learn how to care for animals. The freshman at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) is now the president of the Georgia Future Farmers of America (FFA). 

"If we didn't have the barn, my kids would not have done this," said Jenny about Ian and Gavin. "They would not have had these opportunities, period. So, with that being said, the more families we can pull in who are like us, then the more kids will have the same opportunities that my kids did and be able to grow in the same ways that they've grown." 

HireSmart U.S. Agricultural Assistance — Kaylee's Story 

Jones said the barn renovations will improve animal conditions by providing more space and cover at the structure built in 2015 as a teaching facility, which was later modified for livestock housing. 

"We realized our students needed an on-campus housing facility for their livestock projects," she said. "So we've modified, we've rigged, and we're making due with the facility we have here for our students." 

Jenny Heath, who assists at the ag barn, along with other parents, said the renovations will include a number of small, but significant upgrades. 

"We've been in the barn for five years now, and we've made it work, but just the things that are going to be done — the extra pavement that's going to be laid, the bigger pins, oh my gosh, if there's a wash pin, huge things that don't seem like a big deal, but they are," she said. 

Jones has seen livestock projects' impact on students, calling it "life-changing." 

"It gives them a sense of responsibility," she said. "They learn every day about the nature of livestock care. They learn good practices. They learn to be responsible. They learn to take care of things. It's just such a good lesson for students to learn. There are a lot of different pathways to success for students, but a livestock project, in my mind, is one of the best." 

Anne Lackey, co-CEO of HireSmart Cares with her husband, Mark, said helping young people find success is the purpose of their nonprofit organization and the reason for the donation. 

"You have to invest in our youth," said Anne Lackey. "And the more youth we can impact, the richer our community will be. That's really what it comes down to." 

HireSmart Cares U.S. Career Assistance — Construction Class Story 

Mark Lackey said funding the ag barn expansion makes sense financially because HireSmart aims to get the most bang for the buck in terms of impact. Many grants assist a single recipient, but funding a facility expansion will benefit youth for years. He said he sees exponential returns for the community on the money invested. 


"This isn't about the dollars; it's about the number of kids we can impact," he said. "We're glad to be able to help a number of kids over the years." 

Plans for a Madison County Ag Center and a livestock show facility have been in the works for years. Madison County is moving forward with the larger structure, the multi-purpose ag center, which will serve the community in a variety of ways, not all related to agriculture. A large livestock housing facility is a few years down the road. 

But the HireSmart donation means the high school can address livestock housing needs with renovations before the 2024-25 school year. 

Madison County District 2 Commissioner Terry Chandler, a farmer and a long-time leader in the push for a county ag center, said, "All of us involved in the local 'ag' community are thrilled" with the commitment from HireSmart to expand the student animal housing facilities at the high school. 

Chandler said students actively involved with individual livestock projects "have traditionally been the most well-balanced, best prepared, and most sought-after products of the MC Ag program."   

"When you witness the daily responsibility that is required, the family involvement, all the necessary husbandry skills that must be mastered — certainly including financial responsibility — team building, and exposure to the best students from all over Georgia and the Southeastern U.S., those end results are no surprise," he said.   

Beyond Words: Turning Your Company’s Core Values into Daily Actions   

Chandler said students with livestock showing experience enter the workforce equipped with practical tools, knowledge, skills, and "work ethic at a level that places them head-and-shoulders above and well ahead of the crowd."   

"They are thoroughly primed for success!" he said. "Selfishly, those of us involved in agriculture benefit by having an entirely new population of community members with a better understanding of the demands of production agriculture. Hopefully, many of these students will desire to add their skills and insight to careers focused on meeting the demands of feeding, clothing, and fueling a growing world." 

Chandler said students involved in ag programs also "get exposure to an entirely new list of career opportunities and industry contacts."   

"Their world gets a lot bigger and more exciting!" he said. "Thanks again to Mr. and Mrs. Lackey for their vision and gift. When this is coupled with the direction of a dedicated team of Vo-Ag instructors, committed students and parents, and a supportive community, the benefits to us all at many levels become immeasurable. This is a great start as we move closer to the reality of our ag center that will expand those opportunities even further." 

Jenny Heath said she pulls up to the barn and sees students enjoying themselves beyond the work, such as having Nerf-gun wars and other entertainment. 

"It's such a positive place for them to spend their time," she said. "And the group of kids is just a great group. They're all there with a common goal of taking care of their animals, doing the best they can at that next show the next weekend. Something's pretty special there." 

Gavin Heath said he and fellow students learn leadership skills and the importance of work ethic. 

"You really have to plan ahead on what you're going to work on," he said. "And you set goals you want to accomplish for the next show. And you have to work for it. You gain leadership through the other kids being there, and if there's anyone new who decides to show, you kind of lead them along and teach them what it is and what it's all about." 

HireSmart Filipino Scholarships: Shannen's Story 

To learn more about HireSmart Cares, visit To share an idea on how to advance U.S. workforce development, email

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey are addicted to entrepreneurship, having successfully run multiple multi-million dollar businesses.  

They love sharing tips with anyone aiming to launch a business. But their first word of advice is always — be ready to live frugally. 

"How many of you like to work and not get paid?" Anne asked a roomful of Melinda Cochran-Davis’s construction students at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia. 

No one responded or raised a hand. 

"No one? Well, then you probably don't need to go into business," said Anne. "As a business owner, we worked for years without paychecks. We worked for years making investments back into our business over and over and over again." 

Mark and Anne, who run multiple businesses in international hiring, real estate, and consulting, as well as operating a nonprofit, HireSmart Cares, emphasize that "bootstrapping" a business is all about commitment. 

There's no free time, and the responsibility is 24/7/365. There's no "off button." 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

"We worked seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for seven years before we went on a vacation," said Mark. "There were days when we needed to pay our employees and guess what? We didn't have enough money left to pay ourselves. Running a business is fun and exciting, but it is challenging. It is difficult." 

Mark and Anne talked about Madison County, Georgia, teenage entrepreneur Olivia Braswell, who runs her own homemade soap-making business, Proverbs 31 Farmstead. 

"When you start a business, there's a lot more to it than just owning a business and making money," said Anne. "It's an investment." 

Olivia owns three cows that supply the milk for her business. Mark and Anne asked students to consider all the responsibilities with the cows. Olivia had to purchase the cows and make sure they're fed and properly cared for. She milks them at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day. 

"Every day, seven days a week, 365 days, and she can't miss a day," said Mark. 

Anne said having a good product is not enough. People need to know about what you have to sell. She talked about developing a marketing budget. 

"You need customers; you need advertising," she said. "How are you going to pay for that?" 

Anne said she and Mark worked full-time jobs and invested a portion of their salaries into their businesses, never taking out loans. 

"You have to figure out how much money or time you are willing to invest in something to see if it's going to be successful," said Anne. 

Mark shared that he considered starting a hardware business, so he worked for free every weekend at a hardware store for several months to see what it took to run a hardware store, ultimately deciding he had no desire to start such a business. 

"It was a cheap investment, rather than buying a store or starting to buy nuts and bolts and screws and things and then starting my own hardware store," he said. "I invested in learning." 

Mark and Anne said entrepreneurship is all about marrying your passion for an idea with a commitment to make it work. 

"Find those things you enjoy already," he said. 

"Understand what you do best and what you're passionate about," said Anne. 

A student asked Anne what she loved most about being a business owner. 

"Service," she said, noting that she and Mark employ over 700 people. "I get to help change lives by helping people achieve their goals and giving them health care, dental care, and community." 

Anne said being a successful entrepreneur is rooted in passion and establishing a distinct quality of service. Seeking money for money's sake isn't enough. 

"When you love what you do, and you do your best every day, the money will show up," she said. 

After the talks, Mark and Anne chatted with students, fielded questions, and heard their ideas. 

"We're here to help you," said Anne. "Ask us anything." 

That's the spirit of HireSmart Cares. It's a quest to serve youth with time, teaching, tools, and technology so today's kids can be tomorrow's leaders. 

If you're interested in reading more about HireSmart Cares, click here

If you'd like to donate to support HireSmart Cares and its initiatives to support today's youth, click here. 

If you have ideas for supporting youth that you'd like us to hear, email us 

You landed the job, and And you got that paycheck. Yay! Now what?  

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey recently talked about personal finances with students in Melinda Cochran-Davis’s construction classes at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia. 

What does it take to live? 

Mark and Anne praised Cochran-Davis’s work with the students on budgeting. Davis assigned each student a salary based on their grade-point average in the class, with A's earning the most, followed by B's and C's. Students then had to allocate their income toward living expenses, including rent, auto costs, food, insurance, utilities, entertainment, etc. 

"This is a great tool!" said Mark, noting the importance of careful budgeting. 

Mark and Anne both shared their early-life budgeting processes with the students.   

"What I did is I kept a little notebook in my pocket, and every time I purchased anything, cash or check, I wrote it down," said Mark. "I did this for months, and after about three months, I could look at my history and know what it cost me to live." 

He then knew how to live within a budget because he carefully tracked the numbers. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

Mark said banks make a fortune off overdraft fees and urged students not to help banks make their offices bigger by incurring unnecessary and expensive overdraft notices. 

"Whatever works for you," he said. "Develop a system of tracking expenses so you don't pay overdraft fees." 

Anne shared her former system of budgeting by envelopes. She talked about days of living lean and working to make a little bit of money last. 

"When I got my paycheck, I ended up taking it and cashing it, and I put it in envelopes," she said. 

There were envelopes for rent, car payments, gas, food, utilities, and entertainment. Anne talked to students about "fixed" costs, such as rent and car payments, versus "variable" expenses, such as food and entertainment. 

She put her cash into each envelope every pay period. When an unexpected expense arose, she had to determine which envelope went light. 

"Let's say I have a situation where my car breaks down, and I have to do repairs," she said. "Where does that money come from? I only have so many envelopes." 

Anne shared the necessity of firm budgeting priorities and a hierarchy of needs. She said rent, auto, and gas expenses came first. She needed a place to live and transportation to work. When unexpected costs came, she pulled first from entertainment funds and next from food. Anne added this system helped her positively refine her decision-making. 

"If I only have $20 for entertainment for the month, maybe I'm not buying that $7 Starbucks latte," she said. 

Mark and Anne also talked to the students about good debt versus bad debt, explaining that good debt has a positive return on investment, while bad debt continues to bite into your wallet for years. They urged students not to be on the wrong side of compound interest. 

They noted that taking on major debt for college without a viable repayment plan is financially destructive, with debt payments increasing over the years because of compound interest. They urged students to consider working through college to pay as they go or to see which employers have a tuition reimbursement program. 

"Think about your income potential after college," said Anne. "We often see kids saddled with $100,000 worth of debt, and their earning potential is $40,000 a year." 

Mark talked about how powerful compound interest can be for students if they save money over time and invest it wisely in interest-bearing accounts. 

"So compound interest can work for you in savings and against you in a loan," he said. 

Along those lines, Anne advised students to "beware of credit cards," noting the high-interest rates that saddle young people with debt. 

"They (credit card companies) make it sound so interesting, but it can get you into bad trouble," she said. "Don't try to live over what you earn because that will get to you." 

High schoolers are zooming toward the days of paychecks, rent, insurance, and other adult concerns. Mark and Anne want the next generation to face those challenges with skill and confidence. That’s why HireSmart Cares allocates time, tools, teaching, and technology to those efforts.  

To learn more about HireSmart Cares or to make a donation to the nonprofit’s mission to empower today’s youth through skill-development initiatives, visit 

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 call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential    

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." 

HireSmart U.S. Agricultural Assistance — Kaylee's Story 

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 U.S. Career Assistance — Construction Class Story 

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 To contribute to our efforts to help today's youth be tomorrow's leaders, click here

You’re going for that interview. You want that job. How do you land it? 

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey recently talked with Melinda Cochran-Davis’s construction classes at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia about the essential soft skills needed when searching for work. 

"There are some foundational skills you need to know and practice," said Anne. 

Mark and Anne emphasized the need for respect and interest while seeking employment. 

"What we hear from employers and what we hear out in the community is one of the bigger problems is the lack of respectfulness given in those initial introductions," said Mark. 

The first sign of respect a job applicant can show a potential employer is a professional appearance. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

Mark talked about how he worked full-time and took evening classes in college, where he arrived dressed in his three-piece business suit from the workday. A marketing professor called Mark and several classmates to the front of the room, asking, "Which person would you trust with your $10,000?" When the instructor pointed to Mark, the class cheered loudest. He said it really drove home the point that first impressions matter. 

"You don't have to wear a three-piece suit," responded Anne. "But you can be clean — no stains on your shirt, have your shirt tucked in with no wrinkles. You can do many things to make a good first impression that are easy and don't cost any money. Again, how's your hair? How are you coming across? Are you offering a good, firm handshake? Those little things make a huge difference in how people perceive you and how seriously they take you." 

Mark and Anne had the students stand and practice firm handshakes. One other tidbit of advice: If you wear a nametag, put it on the right side so that when you shake hands, it's visible to the person you're greeting. Also, remember to call people by their names and leave your cell phone in your car. No phone call or text is more important than a job interview. 

The couple emphasized the need for timeliness. Arriving for a noon interview at noon is late. "Always be early!" they said, noting the importance of factoring in potential delays, such as a traffic accident on your route. 

They urged the students to consider their behavior and appearance well before the interview begins, noting that how a person acts toward a receptionist is a vital indicator to employers of a person's character, which decision-makers notice.   

"Your interview starts the moment you step on the premises," said Anne, stressing the need to be respectful to everyone, including those encountered in seemingly chance meetings, perhaps even before entering the job site. 

"You don't want to cut someone off in traffic and then go in for your interview and realize that's who you just cut off in traffic," said Mark. 

Both urged teens to "be interested instead of interesting," pointing out that employers are drawn to intellectually curious applicants who ask good questions about the place of employment. 

An interest in others leads to better conversations, more information, and more potential connections. So, if a job doesn't work out, a connection has been made, and that person may be a source for additional connections and job opportunities. 

"What you do matters, how you act matters, how you treat people matters, what you look like matters," said Anne, adding that it's essential to get all of those things right to stand out in a competitive job market. 

HireSmart Cares empowers the next generation by donating to a variety of community efforts aimed at helping children and teens be self-sufficient in years to come. But for Mark and Anne, it's never about just writing a check and walking away. It's about truly being present for youth hungry for knowledge and encouragement. 

That’s why HireSmart Cares allocates time, tools, teaching, and technology to those efforts.  

To learn more about HireSmart Cares or to make a donation to the nonprofit’s mission to empower today’s youth through skill-development initiatives, visit 

"How many of you have gotten a paycheck?" 

HireSmart Cares founders Mark and Anne Lackey recently asked that question to a roomful of high school students at Jackson Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson, Georgia. 

Several raised their hands. Mark and Anne then led the students on a journey from job interview, to managing personal finances to starting their own businesses. How do you make smart decisions every step of the way? 

HireSmart Cares empowers the next generation by donating to a variety of community efforts aimed at helping children and teens be self-sufficient in years to come. For instance, Mark and Anne provide $2,000 grants to construction teachers in Madison and Jackson County to aid their efforts in developing teens’ hands-on skills.  

But at HireSmart Cares, it's never about just writing a check and walking away. It's about truly being present for youth hungry for knowledge and encouragement.  

“We’re here to try to help you be better in the future and give you some tips,” said Anne to students in Melinda Cochran-Davis’s class at Empower. 

The successful entrepreneurs, owners of six multi-million-dollar businesses, share their time and knowledge with young people who will soon face the challenges of getting a job, managing finances, and looking for potential entrepreneurship opportunities. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

The basic theme of their talk? Success is all about attention to detail. 

Mark and Anne emphasize the importance of attention to detail in every aspect of professional and personal life. They draw from their vast experience, illustrating how meticulous planning and execution played a pivotal role in their success. They shared anecdotes from their own careers, highlighting the small but significant decisions that led them to where they are today. 

The concept of “attention to detail” was not just limited to job tasks or business plans, but extended to everyday life decisions such as budgeting, time management, and setting goals.  

Mark and Anne discussed the importance of financial literacy, pointing out common mistakes young people make and offered practical advice on budgeting, saving, and investing. Their message was clear: managing money wisely is a crucial skill, especially for those aspiring to start their own businesses. 

The entrepreneurs also encouraged the teens not to get too down in the face of failure. They shared their experiences with setbacks and how they used them as learning opportunities, highlighting the reality that failure is often a stepping-stone to success.  

Mark and Anne urged the teens to be intellectually curious, to ask questions of others, and to recognize that there is a vast range of options for their future.  

The shared success stories, such as “Tony,” a local teen who made an HVAC industry connection while in high school and now has a profitable job in that field.  

“Tony has been promoted and promoted because he had skill sets that he demonstrated here in class being attentive, being interested,” said Mark. “Tony sat in one of these chairs just like you do.”  

High schoolers are zooming toward the days of paychecks, rent, insurance, and other adult concerns. Mark and Anne want the next generation to face those challenges with skill and confidence. That’s why HireSmart Cares allocates time, tools, teaching, and technology to those efforts.  

To learn more about HireSmart Cares or to make a donation to the nonprofit’s mission to empower today’s youth through skill-development initiatives, visit 

Ava Willoughby recently got a taste of being a veterinarian when she had to care for her sick goat, Lupe, through the night. 

“We had to give her medicine throughout the night, every four hours,” said the eighth grader, who watched Lupe recover and regain her appetite. 

Ava loves the feeling of helping animals and plans to make that her career. 

“I like being around animals, and I feel like that’s what makes me happy,” she said of her desire to be a veterinarian for both big and small animals. 

HireSmart Cares wants Ava to thrive in that role. So HireSmart steps in with support for Ava and many other youth aiming to gain skills now for a brighter tomorrow. 

For instance, the nonprofit is covering the cost of an ag barn expansion in Madison County, Georgia so kids who don’t live on a farm can learn to care for livestock. HireSmart also funds ag-related scholarships and a variety of grants for youth interested in ag careers. 

Ava was able to travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the National FFA Convention in October with financial assistance from HireSmart for lodging, travel, and fees. 

She said she enjoyed the trip and had a chance to hear from a variety of people about their agricultural backgrounds. 

“It was fun, definitely really cold,” said Ava about the convention. “We had a lot of entertainment. We went to the zoo and then we had our sessions where we went and listened to people talk about their experiences.” 

The daughter of Josh and Brandi and the third of four children is in her first year showing goats with FFA. Ava has two goats, Peaches and Lupe, and will soon add a third, Ginga. 

“A few of my friends show, and I thought it would be really fun, and since goats aren’t the hardest to show for your first year,” she said. “The cows take a lot of work, probably double the time you spend with a goat.” 

Still, Ava said she will probably show cows during high school. 

“I’ve thought about having a cow,” she said. “I don’t feel like I want to do it right now, but I definitely want to when I’m in high school.” 

Ava participates on the middle school livestock judging team, learning to perform market evaluations. 

“If you’re judging your market animals for the meat, you want them to be bigger, and you don’t want them to be fat,” she said. “You want them to be bigger and muscular. And then for the breeding, you want them to have a good structure so they can hold up when carrying (offspring).” 

She’s also a middle school FFA officer this year, serving as the parliamentarian. 

“We’ll do a slideshow of how agriculture relates to what we’re talking about in that meeting,” said Ava. “The last meeting we did basketball. We stayed for the middle school basketball game, and I did a slideshow over how that related to agriculture.” 

She talked with fellow FFA members about how the basketball flooring is hardwood, the ball is made from cowhide, and the first-ever basketball goals were peach baskets. 

Ava smiles when talking about animals, including her dogs, Ivy and Banjo, and she’s looking forward to a future looking out for all creatures big and small as a veterinarian. 

HireSmart aims to help Ava and her peers take those steps to success, making the future brighter for all. 

Ava’s mom, Brandi, said she’s grateful for the support. 

“Being able to attend the National FFA Convention was definitely a privilege, said Brandi. “Ava was able to gain a larger perspective of the FFA organization and the opportunities it can provide. We are grateful that HireSmart Cares was willing to help provide Ava with an opportunity to expand her knowledge and build upon her success with FFA and her future endeavors.” 

If you’re interested in helping HireSmart support youth like Ava through a wide variety of workforce development initiatives, click here to contribute. 

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. 

A call to action: HireSmart Cares aims to help youth realize their potential  

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 See more about us at  

T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7…Madison County High School's drone program is about to lift off with help from HireSmart Cares.  

High school students will see the town of Danielsville from above the treetops in months and years to come as a new JROTC drone program opens their eyes to the latest in aerial technology and its applications in the employment world.  

"I'm excited for them (the students)," said JROTC First Sergeant Francisco Ramey, who oversees the MCHS program with Col. Robert Stuart. "I know it's going to take off. It's going to be awesome."  

Ramey and the cadets accepted a $4,000 check from HireSmart Cares after the MCHS Veterans Day program Nov. 9 for the new drone program. The 25-year military man and 10-year JROTC instructor in his third year at MCHS said the grant will make a big difference for local students.  

"It (the grant) means support," said Ramey. "It means individuals out there really want to support our dreams and goals for our future. I've been to several different educational institutions, and it was the opposite. But support is outstanding here in Madison County. Everybody says, 'What can we do to help? What do you need?'"  

The instructor thanked first-year MCHS principal Christy Epps for supporting JROTC and its newest endeavor. JROTC students chanted, "Dr. Epps! Dr. Epps!" at the check presentation ceremony and also roared when HireSmart co-CEO Mark Lackey, accompanied by his co-CEO wife, Anne, announced the $4,000 award from the nonprofit, which focuses on providing the next generation with an array of workforce development opportunities, such as learning about aerial technology.  

"I talked with First Sergeant and said we'd be happy to support the drone program, and so I'm presenting First Sergeant with a check for $4,000, and it's for every one of you to learn a skill, whether it's in the military or private industry," said Lackey. "Drone operators are in big, big demand. You can create a whole career out of what you'll learn here and have fun doing it."  

Ramey said 90 of the 139 cadets in the JROTC program and about 40 students who are not in JROTC have expressed an interest in participating in the drone program.  

"If it (the drone program) excites them about coming to school, if it excites them about being in class if it excites them about possibly looking at another avenue of employment upon graduating high school, then we're just going to have keep pushing this thing," said Ramey, who envisions expanding the program to the middle and elementary school level in years to come.  

An experienced drone operator, Ramey said he's consulting with existing JROTC drone programs to learn from them so "it can be a little more seamless for us." Epps secured a charter grant through the school system to purchase drones for the program. MCHS will use three levels of drones: beginner, intermediate, and professional, and start with 17 initial drones.  

Students will learn a wide range of drone skills. They'll work as teams to run missions, using coordinates to photograph specific items. They'll pick up and deliver packages. They'll learn how to utilize grid coordinates, mapping, and programming. They'll see how math applies to drone operations.  

"We want to teach them how to set up command centers and how to set up relays," he said. "It's going to be great."  

A number of public safety services are using drones to quickly scout emergency situations to determine what response is needed. The First Sergeant added that potential jobs in drone operations are vast and growing. He spoke of aeronautical first responders, aviation applications, recreational opportunities, construction, real estate, photography, cinematography, firefighting, and information technology uses.  

"This is not going anywhere," he said of the need for drone operators.  

The HireSmart grant will allow JROTC to purchase replacement parts and drones when needed and fund travel for the cadets to learn about drone technology. Ramey spoke of a trip JROTC will take in June to the Florida Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.  

"I'm trying to let them understand how the dots are connected in the aeronautical and aviation field," he said.  

Ramey said the drone program fits into the bigger vision for JROTC, which he said is helping today's youth better themselves, feel pride in a job well done, and learn about all the opportunities they have to succeed while improving the world around them. JROTC teaches students about leadership, and Ramey said he's proud to see programs, such as the Nov. 9 Veterans Day ceremony, directed by JROTC students, not the instructors.  

Ramey envisions a job placement program at the high school. He loves to see students learn new skills and return to Madison County to teach the next generation, and he anticipates that happening with the drone program.  

"Let's get out of the mindset of the JROTC just being a military program," he said. "We're trying to teach life skills and help them find what they really want to do. We want to give them viable options."  

The First Sergeant said the drone program melds in-class learning with the opportunity to get outside and view the world from new angles.  

"I'm a hands-on learner, and I see that with these kids, too," he said. "That's why I always believe in, 'Hey, let's go outside. You should see this!" 

Our food doesn't grow in grocery stores.             

That's one of the first agricultural lessons a child should learn in life, the fact that a lot of hard work is involved before any bite we take, from milking cows to planting and harvesting crops to transporting food from farms to stores.

The farm-to-table journey is a web of human collaboration, know-how, and daily effort.

HireSmart Cares, a 501c3, supports its local farming community and wants to see the next generation of farmers succeed. That's why HireSmart supports the ag community from every angle, whether it's providing scholarships for students pursuing ag-related degrees or committing to 25 percent of livestock housing costs at the soon-to-be constructed ag center so students who don't live on farms can take on the responsibilities of animal care and perhaps venture into an ag career.

HireSmart U.S. Agricultural Assistance — Kaylee's Story

HireSmart is always asking, "How can we help?" So, it provides aid in various ways, such as awarding a grant to a local teenage soap maker to purchase a milk machine to use with her cows that supply the milk for her soap.

The nonprofit provided a grant for Madison County's October Pioneer Harvest Festival for children's "Farm Fun Zone," which was used to purchase miniature tractors so kids could feel the thrill of being a "farmer" while waving at mom and dad.

HireSmart Cares has a simple mission: "helping kids." We're always eager to support the next generation with tools, technology, time, and teaching. We're always searching for children and teens who aim to better themselves and be tomorrow's leaders. We want to give those young people that extra boost to succeed.  

Our nonprofit supports the next generation in two areas of giving:

  1. Supporting young farmers
  2. Supporting U.S. careers through workforce development programs, scholarships, and grants

HireSmart U.S. Career Assistance — Jeremiah's Story

"I have witnessed the impact of Hiresmart Cares from an educational and industry standpoint, and the contributions made by them are life-changing for students starting their careers," said Jake Slusher, former construction teacher and current Field Training Director for E.R. Snell Contractor Inc. "Hiresmart Cares helps students overcome unforeseen expenses that general scholarships do not cover. They have helped students entering trades buy tools, purchase boots to keep them comfortable at work, uniforms/work attire, and provide funds for transportation. Many scholarships require students to go to college or enter a certain field, but Hiresmart Cares puts the student's dreams first by helping them in many different industries, including healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and business entrepreneurship."

Help us help kids. Do you have an idea of how HireSmart can support the next generation? If so, contact us at