Published on 09/29/11

Bacon County 4-H'er gives back to her community

By Sharon Dowdy

While many teenagers play video games and hang out with their friends, 17-year-old Chelsie Restrepo spends her free time doing community service projects and helping the less fortunate.

Helping others in need

The Bacon County 4-H’er began her community service when she was only 13. She and her mother organized a benefit that raised more than $1,000 for a local family with financial difficulties. Recently she raised enough money to purchase a swing-set and refurbish the local Department of Family and Children Services playground that is used for supervised visits between children and parents.

For two summers, she organized a summer camp for DFACS children. And she collected more than 400 shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts for the DFACS children’s Christmas party.

A beauty pageant organized by Restrepo raised more than $3,000 which was used to buy Christmas gifts for DFACS children and fund a Teen Maze at Bacon County High School. The interactive event taught students how to make wise choices when dealing with sex, drugs and alcohol.

Mastering in leadership

Combined, these activities earned Restrepo the title of Master 4-H’er in Leadership in Action at the 2010 Georgia State 4-H Congress.

With encouragement from Bacon County 4-H Program Assistant Faye Miller, Restrepo began her community service work several years ago.

“Chelsie wanted to do something that would make the lives of children better, so she selected human development as her 4-H project area,” said Ann Wildes, the Bacon County 4-H program coordinator.

Wildes credits part of Restrepo’s success to her close knit and supportive family; especially her mother, Kim Manning. “Her mother is very, very community-minded and she is someone who supports and encourages Chelsie 100 percent,” Wildes said.

Restrepo also earned first place honors in human development at 4-H District Project Achievement where her topic was child abuse, a topic she personally relates to. As a child, she was a victim of emotional abuse.

Chartering a youth Exchange Club

To learn public speaking skills, Wildes encouraged Restrepo to share her personal experience at the local chamber of commerce, Exchange Club and Lions Club meetings. “The Exchange Club raises funds for child abuse so they helped Chelsie fund the playground project,” she said. “They also asked her to start a junior Exchange Club at her high school.”

Restrepo followed through on the request and started what is now the first high school Exchange Club chapter in the nation. She has since spoken at the district Exchange Club meeting on Jekyll Island and the club’s national meeting held in California.

“Chelsie is a resilient young lady,” said Wildes. “She doesn’t let anything knock her off her feet. She works hard and always does anything we have asked her to do. Chelsie is a prime example of the fact that if you work hard, the opportunities are just endless in 4-H.”

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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