Even in silence, Madison County's Peyton Sartain keeps a beat as works on electrical wiring.  

"If the song has a good beat, I like it," he said. "So, in my head, I'm just trying to play a good beat." 


The music in Sartain's head is a winning tune. The rising Madison County High School senior recently won the Skills USA state championship in electrical construction wiring, along with first-place finishes in the state's Northeast and Southeast regional competitions. He then competed in June in the national Skills USA competition in Atlanta. 

"Being able to win regionals, I told myself, 'Hey, I'm actually better than what I originally thought I was,'" said Peyton. "It definitely builds confidence. By the time I got to nationals, I wasn't nervous, even though it was a lot more serious.” 


In the national event, Peyton competed against 41 other state champions in the Georgia World Congress Center in the Skills USA Championships, the largest skill competition in the world, covering 1.79 million square feet, equivalent to 31 football fields or 41 acres. 

More than 6,000 students competed in 115 hands-on occupational and leadership competitions, including robotics, automotive technology, drafting, criminal justice, aviation maintenance, and public speaking. 

The aim is to prepare youth to be skilled and successful U.S. workers, and that message resonates with Georgia’s electrical wiring state champion. 

"The trades are what build the country," said Peyton, sitting in the Hardees in Danielsville and being interviewed about his experience. "We're in a building (Hardees) that wouldn't be here without the people in the trades. They are very important people. And there aren't enough people for trades. They're probably the most important jobs out there, but they don't get paid as near as much as they deserve." 


Peyton got a boost from HireSmart Cares, a Madison County-based nonprofit that awarded him a $2,275 grant for his Skills USA registration and hotel costs. HireSmart aims to provide local youth with the knowledge, tools, and opportunities to succeed, and the organization funds a variety of initiatives to help support students like Peyton. 

"Our mission is equipping the next generation," said HireSmart Co-CEO Mark Lackey. "We decided we needed to get out into the community, get to know the needs, and find out how we can help."  

Peyton's wiring knowledge has already caught the attention of employers and earned him prize money for purchasing tools.  

Meanwhile, his MCHS construction teacher, Zach Carithers, said Peyton has made great strides in the past year. 

"At this point, he will take the plans and he can kind of roll with it," said Carithers. "His confidence level is sky high — not just in his ability but also socially. He has shown tremendous growth." 


In the Skills USA wiring competition, contestants are tested based on the latest edition of the National Electric Code (NEC) standards, a conduit bending exercise, and hands-on installation of a conduit system, cabling system, and wiring devices.  

The participants work from drawings and specification sheets. Judging is based on general workmanship, the accuracy of layout and installation, and adherence to industry-safe practices.   

Conduit bending involves running a tube to protect and route electrical wiring from one receptacle box to another. Sometimes, obstacles are in the way of the conduit.  

"You have to know how to bend those angles and how they get around obstacles," he said.  

The following day, participants had to install a conduit system.  

Peyton explained the challenge: "I had multiple different circuits that had a wire from a panel. The panels were where the main power goes into and then the breakers go to the circuits, and I had to bend a conduit from there to a junction box that all the other circuits go into that box. In that junction box, you had a whole bunch of different wires, and you had to figure out which one needed to go to where. And there's plywood you had to cut holes into, and you had to run wire behind the plywood, which is kind of hard to do because usually when you wire it's just open." 


Peyton's parents, Matt and Sandy Sartain, watched from the spectators' area as their son put his skills to the test. Matt is a 30-year electrician employed by Escoe Industrial Contractors. 

Peyton's father said his son "never gives up."  

"Even if he comes across a problem, he just works around the problem and he never quits," said Matt. "That means a lot. A lot of men just give up. He never gives up. He makes me very proud."  

Sandy said Peyton's electrical wiring ability has brought him out of his shell socially. She said he used to be extremely bashful about speaking, but now he's willing to give public presentations. She also praised Carithers for his willingness to work with Peyton and develop his skills.  

"I mean, it's summer break, and he took a week with my child to come here to Atlanta to compete," said Sandy. "Not just anybody will do that." 

Carithers said other Madison County students want to participate in Skills USA after seeing what Peyton has done.  


"We got four more students join after state that want to compete next year," he said. "More students are wanting to get involved seeing the success of another student. It's pretty cool. This event also shows the industry support and the need in the industry. Companies are willing to donate time, materials, and workers for these kids."  

Broad River College and Career Academy CEO Paul "Bo" Boykin was also on hand to cheer on Peyton at the national Skills USA competition in Atlanta. He noted the huge investment from U.S. businesses in the event. Industry leaders from 850 companies, trade associations and unions participated. Industry support of the SkillsUSA Championships is valued at over $36 million in donated time, equipment, cash, and material. More than 1,200 industry judges and technical committee members participated this year. 

"What's really special is the amount of industry support," said Boykin. "You have so many employers who are part of this because they see the need to get students excited about these career possibilities and to let them know that there are great opportunities out there for them. Seeing these employers' heavy involvement here shows you that it's badly needed. And it gets kids excited. And they see the connection to the real world." 


Peyton plans a career in electrical wiring. He's not sure exactly how that will look. Will he start his own business? Perhaps. He's considering pursuing a business degree. 

The rising senior said he's glad he participated in Skills USA. He nearly didn't. 

"Mr. C (Zach Carithers) practically begged me to join Skills USA," he said. "I wasn't going to do it. I didn't want to stay after school and we were building a house. I was like, 'I don't know if I have time to do this,' but he convinced me to do it, and I'm glad I did it. I learned a lot. It was good." 

When it comes to electrical wiring, Peyton Sartain doesn't miss a beat. 

For more information about Skills USA, visit skillsusa.org. Anyone with a suggestion on how HireSmart can help local youth develop the skills they need to succeed can email Info@HireSmartCares.org. 

Westlynn Epps sees local moms wearing her earrings and their children wearing her T-shirts. 

"I see my earrings a lot, especially at football games," said the rising junior, who serves on the Madison County athletic training team, putting tape on ankles and wrists during games. 

Epps' business is called "Works By Westlynn," and the Danielsville resident, who swims competitively, finds time in her busy schedule to make designs with her "Cricut" machine to sell locally. 

"I got good at making stuff, and then I just started selling to the neighbors up and down the street," she said. "And then they were like, 'Oh, this is cool. I want some more.' So that's how I started. I've been selling for about two-and-a-half years, but I really got into it in the last year." 

Epps will have the opportunity to up her sales now that she's secured a grant from HireSmart Cares for $1,500 after winning the MadiCo Makers Student Entrepreneur Program's first-place prize in the recent Shark Tank competition, where young entrepreneurs made a business pitch to judges. The funds will help her buy materials for her products. 

Under the guidance of MCHS business and computer science teacher Jessica Lonon, students developed a business plan. Then, they presented their ideas to judges at the end of the school year. Shea Cain and Joseph Toole won second and third place and qualified for grants from HireSmart of $1,000 and $500 to put toward their businesses. 

Epps plans to attend either the University of Georgia or Emmanuel University to study nursing, while also swimming at the college level. She's been swimming competitively for nine years and wakes early each morning to practice in Athens. 

The daughter of Jake and Christy Epps wants to be a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse. She was inspired to join that profession after seeing her little brother, Hank, in the NICU after his birth. Or, she may pursue a career in sports therapy. 

Works By Westlynn is a "side hustle," the rising junior said. Her pitch to the Shark Tank judges focused on her local focus. 

"I went into the presentation, and I was like, okay, 'Madison County, Madison County, Madison County,'" she said, adding that she spends time contemplating what local people want. 

Epps said the Circut machine can be tricky. 

"There are these little blades, and when it makes one wrong mistake, it'll drag the whole design apart," she said. "And so then you got to take it off and reload it and try it again." 

She added that the software platform, Cricut Design Space, is also difficult to use.  

"It's kind of just like a big canvas, but it's on the computer," she said. "You got to separate your layers, separate your colors, put everything together, size it, and separate it again to make sure everything's in the right place, then you can cut it and put it back together. So it's a long, frustrating process." 

Epps said many people have Cricut machines, but they get frustrated and "are just like, that's it. I'm done. I'm not using this anymore." 

"So the people that have figured out how to use them are the ones making the money," she said. "I think once more people realize it's not as complicated as it seems, they are going to start using everyone else's ideas and putting them into their ideas. That's how it's going to grow." 

Epps said succeeding is about anticipating others' wants and needs and being early with an answer. 

"You have to always be thinking ahead," she said. "What's going to be the next trend?" 

HireSmart Cares focuses on helping youth like Epps succeed as entrepreneurs, farmers, tradespeople, and in other professional services. HireSmart provides grants, scholarships, and funding for skill development programs, as well as classroom interactions to help youth think through getting a job, managing personal finances, and starting their own businesses. 

If you have a proposal for a HireSmart grant or other funding initiative that will help youth develop skills that could lead to careers, contact us at info@hiresmartcares.org. To learn more about HireSmart Cares, click here. To support young entrepreneurs like Westlynn, click here. 

If Christopher Wagnon says Caterpillar Inc. is "like family," he means it literally. The 2024 Madison County High School graduate recently joined his mom and dad, Crystal and Nathan, working for the construction equipment manufacturer. 

"I just knew I was going to be doing a blue-collar job," said Christopher. "When my dad first showed me how to weld, I was pretty fast at learning it, and I knew it was a good career to get into in terms of job positions and money, so I kind of figured I was gonna' go down that path." 

HireSmart Awards Grants to Construction Classes 

HireSmart Cares, which helps local youth with scholarships, grants for entrepreneurial ventures, funding for job skills programs, travel expenses, job preparedness training, and more, provided high-quality work boots for Christopher and 12 of his MCHS classmates who signed with companies right out of high school. The nonprofit also wrote checks for $250 for five Madison County seniors who signed with the U.S. armed forces after graduation.  

HireSmart aims to help youth find good-paying jobs after high school without taking on burdensome college debt. Christopher fits the mold of what the nonprofit seeks for others: a stable income immediately after graduation. 

HireSmart U.S. Career Assistance — Masi’s story 

Christopher began as an intern at Caterpillar in July 2023.  

"They had me welding tilt pins, which go on to the tilt towers, which are just like a giant trailer hitch," he said. "I was going to be going around and learning other stations, but we just didn't have enough people able to do what I was doing. So I was kind of stuck over there the entire time. But now I got done with orientation today, so I start my training again tomorrow, and then that's when they'll put me on the floor, and I'll just learn how to use the cranes and how to weld different spots and all sorts of things." 

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Christopher said he began welding in ninth grade and that Madison County High School and the Broad River College and Career Academy prepared him well for his work with Caterpillar.  

"I think I was 14–15," he said. "I learned how to do flux core at first, and then after that, it took me two years to get into the metal fabrications class, and after that, we learned how to do stick welding, (metal inert gas) MIG welding, and some other stuff like carbon arc gouging and oxyacetylene (oxy-fuel welding)." 

Christopher said his dad is an engineer who helps with repairs and ensures efficient processes. His mom is a team leader who works with excavators.  

HireSmart Cares U.S. Career Assistance — Nate’s Story 

The recent graduate said welding is enjoyable. 

"It's pretty fun getting to mess around with it," he said. "It's pretty cool to see it actually fuse the metal together, able to just build stuff with it." 

Christopher said his ninth-grade supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project of building a trailer from scratch helped determine his path. 

"I got to mess around with welding like that, and it was kind of what catapulted me in this way, in this direction," he said.  


If you have a suggestion on initiatives to help more young people like Christopher find a path to success, email info@hiresmartcares.org. To read more about HireSmart Cares, click here. To support HireSmart Cares initiatives with a monetary donation, click here

Auston Bone sees more benefit in getting a paycheck right after high school than going the college route. 

"My advice to the younger generation is do it," he said. "You can make more money going to work after high school than going to college." 

The 2024 Madison County High School graduate was recognized at the school's recent "career signing day" for joining Custom Home Audio.  

"A good career to me is when you love what you do and make good enough money to not worry about what comes next or how you will pay for something, and one where you can do basically whatever you want to," he said. "It will help me get through life easier." 

As part of his accomplishment, Auston got a pair of quality work boots from HireSmart Cares, which aims to help youth like Auston find promising careers straight out of high school.  

The nonprofit provides scholarships, grants for job skills initiatives, coverage of travel and lodging expenses for career conventions, job preparedness training, and more, including work boots for Auston and 12 of his classmates during the recent Madison County High School and Broad River College and Career Academy signing day.  

HireSmart also provided $250 grants to five Madison County seniors who signed with the U.S. armed forces after graduation. 

Auston, 18, is the son of Davey and Michelle Bone. He has two sisters, Sarah and Paige. The recent graduate said Madison County High School instructors Josh Daniel and Zach Carithers were instrumental in helping him get "prepared for the real world."  

When he's not at work, Auston loves to fish and spend time with his friends, swim, go on road trips, spend time with his family, and " help out however I can." 

Auston said he started helping his uncle in the business during COVID, and "from there, I just grew and started to like it, so I stuck with it." 

"Some of my responsibilities with the company is to run service calls, try to provide as much help and explanation as I can to the customer with whatever we're doing, and try to do this neat and time efficiently as possible," he said. "It's been great so far. I've been able to go into so many unique houses, and I'm able to travel all over the country." 

To suggest how HireSmart can help more young people like Auston find a path to success, email info@hiresmartcares.org. To read more about HireSmart Cares, visit hiresmartcares.org. To support HireSmart Cares initiatives with a monetary donation, click here

What makes a resume stand out? How do you prepare for an interview, and what are good questions to ask a potential employer in a job interview? 

HireSmart Cares co-founders and CEOs Anne and Mark Lackey, who have created and run successful real estate and international staffing businesses, recently shared answers to those questions with students in Zach Carithers' Construction 3 class at Madison County High School, who will meet with representatives from various industries during the school's April 18 Career Day. 

HireSmart is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the next generation succeed through financial investments in agriculture education and workforce development initiatives, as well as teaching students about job preparedness, personal finance and entrepreneurship. 

"We're here to help you get a job," said Anne to the students. "That is our number one reason for being here." 

Anne noted that resumes aren't the place to tell a life story. Instead, their purpose is to secure an interview. They should be concise, include details on what makes the applicant special — such as promotions at previous work, stellar school attendance, extracurricular activities, or good grades — and provide clear instructions on contacting them.   

She also offered to review each of Carithers' students' resumes and urged them to be clear about what they're seeking and to prepare their resumes before Career Day. 

"When you are building your resume, you want to be clear about what you want so that you can communicate that," she said. 

Mark told students he started as a busboy at an International House of Pancakes, then earned a promotion to a backup cook position and continued to progress through the years, serving in executive roles and starting multiple successful businesses. He stressed the importance of demonstrating responsibility, initiative, and a strong work ethic in any position, whether entry-level or CEO. 

"What glory is there in that (serving as a busboy)?" he asked. "Not a lot, but I moved up their ladder, and it showed them that I took initiative. I was responsible. I showed up on time. That's what employers want. They want somebody who will show up on time and work hard." 

Anne advised students to arrive at least 20 minutes early to interviews, bring copies of their resumes, bring a pen and pad to take notes, and leave their cell phone in the car. 

"There's nothing that's going to happen within the hour and a half to two hours that you might be in an interview that is more important than the person that you're meeting with," she said, adding that mom or dad shouldn't come to the business during an interview either. 

The CEO emphasized respecting everyone, from the receptionist to the interviewer. 

"You may think, 'Well, she's just the receptionist. I don't need to be nice to her.' That is a wrong answer," Anne warned. You want to make sure that you are nice to everybody… My first real job was as a receptionist in a bank. Do you know that we didn't hire people who were rude to me? The first thing I did was report them to the director of HR and said they didn't have people skills." 

Anne encouraged the students to be in "interview mode" even before they get to the job site, since you don't know who you'll meet in traffic. That person you cut off in traffic could be the person scheduled to interview you. 

She told the students to stand up for any handshake, and then the Lackeys practiced firm handshakes with the class, emphasizing direct eye contact. She added details such as always putting your nametag on your right so that they can easily see your name when you shake hands with someone. 

"You want to carry yourself well and give them your full attention," she said. 

She said every interview has value, even if it's not your desired job, because it's great practice and helps sharpen your interviewing skills. Mark added that industry professionals talk to each other, and while a position might not be the right fit for you, an employer impressed with your resume and interview may refer you to another company seeking someone more in line with your goals. 

"Use it (the interview) as practice so that when you meet somebody that you're interested in, you're ready," he told the construction class. "It's like measuring twice and cutting once, right?" 

The Lackeys encouraged students to come prepared with questions for the interviewer and to focus on being more "interested than interesting." She said a person asking the right questions elevates their status in the interviewers' eyes. 

"You should come to an interview prepared with about three-to-five questions that you want to ask them," said Anne. "You could have written on your notepad in case you're nervous, but you should think about some of the things you would want to know. When you get those answers, if they resonate with you, you can weave them into your answers when they ask you questions." 

So, what are good questions to ask in a job interview? 

She suggested: Can you tell me a little bit about what's important to you as an employee? What can I expect in a typical day if I'm hired? What do you need to do to become successful here? Are you going to do additional training? Do you pay for certification? Do you pay for tools? 

"These are good logical questions that show that you're interested in the position, and it also tells you what your commitment might be should you go there," she said. "You're interviewing them almost as much as they're interviewing you." 

The Lackeys stressed the significance of maintaining commitments and open communication once hired. 

"Do what you say you're going to do," Anne said. "The easiest way to get fired from any job is to not do what you say you're going to do." 

Anne assured the class that they have many opportunities ahead of them. 

"You guys are sought after," she said. "Nobody here should really be having a hard time getting a job. But you want to make sure it's the right job." 

HireSmart Cares aims to help Madison County youth prepare for successful careers. Anyone with a proposal for grant funding for local ag education or workforce development initiatives, or anyone seeking a presentation to youth on job preparedness, personal finance or entrepreneurship can contact info@hiresmartcares.org with requests or suggestions. 

It’s not Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen — remember the Rudolph song? Try Charlotte, Pumpkin, Nugget, and Flappy. 

Those are the chickens at the mini-farm at Colbert Elementary School where teacher Jenny Heath shows over 400 students the joys and satisfactions in the disciplined care of animals and crops. 

“Students are learning the importance of owning and caring for livestock,” said Heath. “This is related first hand to our community as they see chicken houses all over Madison County. They are taught the purpose of livestock as well as possible careers in the field.” 

Heath also teaches students about raising crops and why the growing process is so vital to every person — we all must eat!  

“In my class, students learn what to plant, and when and how to plant it,” said Heath. “During the growing season, they help to maintain the garden and we talk about how factors out of our control (weather, insects) can either positively or negatively affect our yield. This is always related to a big picture in terms of farming. I stress how important farmers are and that this is something they can choose to do in their future even if they do not currently live on a family farm.” 

Heath’s commitment to teaching students about the land, about farming, about science, about identifying birds and plants and increasing students’ knowledge of the natural world, about how to move in the direction of self sustenance — all of these things directly match the purpose of HireSmart Cares, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the next generation succeed.  

HireSmart Cares Co-CEO Mark Lackey visited Colbert Elementary School recently to present Heath with a $3,000 check to expand the school farm and provide more ag-education and science-related learning opportunities.  

“I love what you’re doing, and I’m really appreciative,” Lackey told Heath. “Thank you for what you do.” 

Lackey said students with agricultural skills will always be vital to society. He said the same goes for students in hands-on trades. 

“If you’re a plumber, electrician, or a carpenter, you will always have work,” he said. “That’s what we try to instill in the kids.”  

Colbert Elementary Principal James Fahrney said Heath’s program is “outstanding.” 

“Jenny Heath is amazing and she’s always thinking of new projects to introduce the love of agriculture and science for our kids — the raised beds, the chickens, the hoop house,” he said. “And she really partners with local community members, which is wonderful.”  

With the help of the grant, there will be more gardening space with additional raised beds, a covered seating area with three benches that seat six-to-eight kids per table, a platform to allow chickens to be off the ground when it rains, as well as more planting trays, pots, potting tables, soil, and other gardening materials. The majority of the garden equipment will be used to make the school’s hoop house functional. 

Lackey asked for Madison County students from the high school construction class as well as the Danielsville construction program to help in the renovations, and Heath and MCHS construction teacher Zach Carithers are partnering together to make that happen. Lackey also asked that all grant funds be spent in Madison County. 

“If you’re going to spend money, spend it in the community because that’s a job for somebody here,” he said. 

Heath, a mother of two sons, said she’s seen first-hand how valuable an ag education has been for her boys, and she wants to extend those opportunities to more children.   

“As the mother of two boys who are both involved in FFA, I have seen first hand the value of this type of learning and education,” she said. “One of my boys is taking a ‘traditional’ college path, while the other one is planning on attending a trade school once he graduates. Both will do something related to agriculture because of what they learned and were exposed to in their ag program. By growing my program at Colbert Elementary, my goal is to set the stage for younger kids to understand that what we do on a school level, can turn into a trade later in life.”  

Heath said HireSmart’s ongoing contributions to ag education and workforce development are having a big impact locally. 

"Mark and Ann Lackey are making a huge difference in our schools, community, and the lives of our students,” she said. “Thanks to their generosity, Colbert students will continue to have opportunities to experience hands-on learning through agriculture." 

Heath said Charlotte, Pumpkin, Nugget, and Flappy are also providing eggs to Colbert families. And students got a little taste of democracy, too. 

“The students got to name the chickens,” she said. “I got them to write down names they wanted, then I made a ‘ballot’ and they voted.” 

If you have a suggestion on a local ag-education or workforce development initiative that may qualify for a HireSmart grant, email info@hiresmartcares.org. 

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." 

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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." 

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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.   

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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 hiresmartcares.org. To share an idea on how to advance U.S. workforce development, email info@hiresmartcares.org

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 Info@HireSmartCares.org. 

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. 

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

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

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 hiresmartcares.org.