Itawamba Jr. Leadership team members recently completed their community project “Swing by Itawamba.” Eighteen students from across the county took part in the 2020 program.

Sponsored by the Itawamba County Development Council and currently in its fourth year, the program is geared toward building leadership strengths and preparing junior and senior high school students for challenges they may face as leaders.

The program kicked off last August and would have wrap up in March if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t pushed back project completion dates and halted graduation ceremonies.

ICDC Executive Director Vaunita Martin told The Times she hopes this is their first and last group to navigate a global pandemic. Not that it stymied their drive or creativity.

“Even though this was a tremendous obstacle, they overcame it and completed all their projects,” Martin said. “We regret not being able to have a reception and graduation ceremony, but we did present each student with a gift certificate from local businesses.”

Jr. Leadership members attended educational sessions throughout the year, including programs focused on budgets, finances, and county and state history. They also attended a career expo.

Each year, participants take on large-scale community projects as part of the program. This year, the juniors and seniors accepted into the program took on “Swing by Itawamba” to directly enhance efforts to attract tourists to Itawamba County. The project consisted of students collaborating with local communities and businesses to design and strategically place decorated swings throughout the county.

“Four different groups approached the project in very different ways, creating an intriguing tour of swings throughout the county,” Martin said. “You can see the personalities of the students really come through when viewing the swings.”

Martin said the project will help draw visitors to businesses, places of history, and locations of interest in a unique way while also celebrating Itawamba County’s southern heritage.

“There is nothing more southern than a front porch swing,” she said. “It says come sit, relax, and stay a while. Isn’t that exactly what we want visitors to do?”

Dr. Joe Lowder developed the idea for the project as a member of the Itawamba Jr. Leadership Committee. Each group chose the location for its swing. Each group had $500 of seed money to get them started, but had to raise another $1,500 in donations to pay for each swing.

Greater Fulton area swings were designed by and placed by Lakin Hamm and Chance Williams. Swings are located at Guy’s Place at Midway Marina, the north and south lawns of the Itawamba County courthouse, and Porch Swing Pickings.

Greater Dorsey area swings were designed and placed by Cora Beth Brown, J.T. Lentz, Kella Brooke O’Brian, Preston Cox, Jacie Dickinson, Laura Leigh Johnson. Swings are located at Pleasant Grove RCDC, Dorsey Food Mart, Roadrunner, and The Old Carolina Schoolhouse.

Greater Tremont area swings were designed and placed by Taylor Bishop, Caleb Ward, Hannah Holley, and J.T. Johnson. Swings are located at the Itawamba Welcome Center and Tammy Wynette Center.

Greater Mantachie area swings were designed and placed by Emily Adams, Trey Melson, Genise Dabbs, Kayce Hunter, Jaylen Gant, and Reed Hester. Swings are placed at Mantachie Park, Sam’s Town Market, Dixie Country Store, and Itawamba Historical Society.

GPS coordinates for the location of each swing can be found on the ICDC Facebook page.

A brochure is underway to highlight the locations of each swing. The brochures will be placed at hotels, places of interest, and Mississippi Welcome Centers to encourage tourists to “Swing By Itawamba.”

“These projects would not be possible if not for the support of the Itawamba Jr. Leadership Committee, our elected officials, and our generous donors,” Martin said. “We thank everyone that played a part in bringing this project to fruition.”

Over the past four years, 73 students have completed the Itawamba Jr. Leadership Program.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline to apply for the 2020-2021 Jr. Leadership Program is May 31.

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