By Jessica Pope, jessica.pope@gaflnews.com



VALDOSTA -- The Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta's 2003 Youth of the Year is a sophomore at Valdosta High School. She was one of several individuals honored Tuesday night during the organization's 57th Annual Dinner Meeting at the Valdosta Country Club.

"I had no idea I was receiving an award tonight," said Jennifer Clevenger, a member of the Lady Wildcats Softball Team and Valdosta High School Chorus, following the announcement. "It was such a surprise. I was shaking. There were tears."

A member of the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta for the past six years, she has served the organization in a number of capacities, including after-school and summer program participant, junior counselor and tutor.

"I have really put a lot into this club," Clevenger added. "It feels really good to have someone recognize that."

The 2003 Man of the Year Award went to Hal Harwell, incoming president of the club's board of directors and manager of the Wal-Mart Super Center.

Robert Soper, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta said, "Our mission is to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential as moral, contributing, caring and productive citizens."

A number of things are required to make this statement a reality, he continued, including strong leadership. Harwell, he added, is a prime example of a good leader. He joined the club's Board of Directors in 2000, serving as vice president in 2002 and 2003, and was presented the Louis Kafoure Memorial Service Award in 2001. He jumped in with both feet, making facility improvements and volunteering as a coach. He was instrumental in obtaining new fencing for the athletic fields at both the Lake Laurie and Toombs Street facilities and raising funds to build two new batting cages at the Lake Laurie facility.

"We do the things we do out of a love for the kids," Harwell said. "It just takes a little time. I appreciate this award. The kids are what make a difference."

Johnny Sansberry was named Old Reliable for 2003. During his time with the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta, he was named Boy of the Year in 1968 and received an Extra Mile Award in 1997. He has been a volunteer coach for the past 29 years.

"Johnny has worked countless hours working with the boys and girls, turning them into young men and women," David S. Waller Jr., outgoing president of the Board of Directors, said. "He said this is his last year coaching, but we hope not. He's a real asset to our club."

Sansberry joined the club as a child.

"This club did a lot for me growing up," he said. "I remember the positive influence. Tonight was a big surprise. It was really nice to be recognized. However, I don't do what I do for that."

Extra Mile Awards for 2003 went to Dr. Charles Walsh with Valdosta State University's Center for Economic Education and Jack Cook, Valdosta City School System Building Systems Specialist.

Walsh joined the board of directors in 2002, chairing the Technology Committee. He is very involved with the Toombs Street facility's after-school program and has secured several university students to assist with the club's technology programs. He was unable to attend the event.

Cook has been involved with the club as both a coach and all-around "handyman." He recently volunteered to put up the nine new scoreboards the Pepsi Company donated to the club, saving the organization thousands of dollars.

"Coaching the kids at the Toombs Street facility was the most fun I ever had," Cook said. "I love those kids. On the field, in a uniform, everyone is the same. It does not matter where they live or how much money they have. They all struggle. They all learn to succeed."

Wally Colson walked away with the Louis Kafoure Memorial Service Award. He joined the board of directors in 1975, served as president in 1988 and 1989, received the Man of the Year Award in 1980 and in 2001, and received the Old Reliable Award in 1997.

"I had no idea I was getting jack," Colson said with a chuckle. "I do appreciate it though. I have always said, if you don't help the youth of our area just who are you going to help."

Service to Youth Awards went to Gary Prine, John A. Lastinger, David Pipkin, and David S. Waller Jr., all for 10 years of service; Don Reames for 25 years of service; and David S. Waller, Sr., for 30 years of service.



To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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