VALDOSTA — Both experienced and young professionals from the Valdosta-Lowndes County community received recognition of completion during the recent 2020 Community Xccelerator virtual graduation.

After conducting a total of 20 sessions, the program held an online graduation event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The program’s director, DeWayne Johnson, led the online celebration by acknowledging the participants, the guest experts and the program sponsors for their involvement in making the program an impactful success for the community, according to a statement from the organization.

Participants in the 2019-20 Valdosta Community Xccelerator inaugural program and graduation class are Carmen Bankhead, Kayla Brown, Sheila Hall, Zaniecia Hardy, Lauren Hurley, Joy McBride, Jasmine Miles, Njeri Pringle and Kristen Rodgers.

“This is a unique program, where participants learn directly from guest experts. We were proud to have 17 different partner organizations that helped to empower the participants in the Community Xccelerator. Over the course of the program, the Community Xccelerator featured over 25 different speakers who are passionate about strengthening the community's knowledge base and increasing our core of empowered citizens,” Johnson said.

The online celebration featured a video recognition from former Valdosta City Mayor John Gayle, who served as a guest during the final portion of his eight-year term.

“These people that are involved in your program, I just applaud them because they are anxious to get more information and learn especially about city government. What I got out of it is that it’s a program that more people ought to be involved in,” Gayle said.

Margo Wilson, former Valdosta Mall Chick-fil-A owner and operator, sent a special pre-recorded video all the way from her new location in Albuquerque, N.M. Wilson was an early advocate for the program and was instrumental in providing the catering services for the program’s evening sessions, organizers said.

“Not only are you going to be able to network and invest in your local community, but also learn, using the resources you’ve built in the Community Xccelerator and leveraging those that you’ve learned from and learned with, in your class,” Wilson said.

Pringle and Hurley provided pre-recorded statements for the event from their point of view as participants of the program.

“As a participant in the program, I was introduced to a number of financial growth and sustainable concepts and practices," Pringle said. "The meetings allowed me to learn from local experts as well as my cohort members. I am most grateful for this program and see the value in participating.”

Pringle is a Georgia Military College adjunct math instructor and Academic Support Center co-coordinator at Valdosta State University.

“My personal goal when starting the program was to learn as much about real estate and purchasing a property as I could," said Hurley, who is the program director with Girls On The Run South Georgia and a VSU graduate student. "Through the program, I was able to learn, network with the people in the class and we were all able to gain a lot of advice. I am thankful that I was a part of the program, and I really enjoyed my time.”

Each participant received a program completion certificate, a $50 Chick-fil-A gift card, a Community Xccelerator embroidered messenger bag and a Community Xccelerator T-shirt, organizers said.

Later during the event, the Community Xccelerator Director’s Award was announced and awarded to Rodgers, who works with Lowndes County Schools Transportation Department. According to Johnson, “the Community Xccelerator Director’s Award recognizes the participant that noticeably committed to attendance, session participation and taking intentional actions beyond the program.”

According to organizers, Rodgers only missed one of the 20 sessions.

The final video message was provided by Lynne Brown, an executive director with the John Maxwell Team. Brown served as a motivational speaker and a leadership resource for the participants during the Xccelerator program.

The Community Xccelerator "has created an environment that’s conducive to growth. I know that it’s just the beginning of a great thing because (the participants) will go and share what they’re learning and their influence will begin to multiply influence,” Brown said.

Closing remarks for the virtual event were given via webcam by Jeanna Allums, head librarian for the Willis L. Miller Library, which served as host location for all of the Community Xccelerator sessions, and according to organizers, was significant for providing "a resourceful, contemporary and visible environment for the program."

“The vision of the South Georgia Regional Library system is to provide essential community connections that inspire life-long learning for everyone. Programs such as the Community Xccelerator help make that vision a reality,” Allums said.

The Community Xccelerator program is a 20-session “Empowerment & Growth” program that supports participants’ desire to "gain personal and business development resources, by teaching a rarely taught knowledge base and fundamental paths for success. The program provides participants with the opportunity to learn goal execution, financial literacy and wealth strategies, business development fundamentals and public speaking skills." 

Valdosta’s Community Xccelerator is provided by the H. DeWayne & Amanda Johnson BridgeBuilder Education Foundation, a local 501c(3) nonprofit entity.

For information about the Community Xccelerator and how to participate or donate, email or visit online.

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