published Friday, February 21st, 2014

Boys and Girls Club honors student Carlisha McKenzie

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    Carlisha McKenzie poses for a portrait with her "Outstanding Youth of the Year 2013" award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chattanooga at the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy on Thursday.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
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    Chris Whitehead, left, a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, instigates a fist bump with Jalanden, at a first meeting Thursday during lunch break. Whitehead has been working with Jalanden, now a 10-year-old student at Brown Academy, for three years.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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Butch Jones is keynote speaker

Carlisha McKenzie will be honored in front of the community on April 29 when the Boys and Girls Club welcomes University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones to speak at the Stake and Burger Dinner and fundraiser at the Chattanoogan.

Jones is entering his second season at UT's coach. He just secured one of the nation's premier recruiting classes.

"We were very fortunate he agreed to do that," Gray said. "We try to get, not necessarily always sports figures, but people who understand and can come and encourage."

Tickets to the Stake and Burger Dinner be purchased at 423-266-6131 or online at bgccha.org.

Carlisha McKenzie says she must be doing something right.

She is.

The 15-year old freshman at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy received the Outstanding Leadership Award for the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga Thursday morning.

Carlisha is the second female to receive the honor since 1977. The award usually goes to a high school junior or senior, but Carlisha's work at the club, commitment to academic excellence and ability to organize and motivate others made her impossible to pass up.

"She's a very extraordinary young lady, and when she really gets to talking and lights up telling you about the club, I mean everything about her lights up," said Debbie Gray, executive vice president of the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga. "She gets so caught up in what she's doing and how she's helping other people."

Next up for Carlisha is a trip to Nashville where she will compete for the state's Youth of the Year award. State winners then travel to Atlanta for a regional competition and the chance to meet President Barack Obama, who selects the National Youth of the Year.

"I hope I win," Carlisha said.

Those who know her say she already has, regardless of what further accolades may come.

Carlisha aspires to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and study astrophysics.

Despite her lofty individual goals, the consensus is that what Carlisha does for others is what sets her apart.

Typically, by the time Boys and Girls Club participants enter high school, they've transitioned into leadership and mentoring roles for younger students. Gray said that Carlisha already has been giving back.

And her servanthood permeates to the classroom where teachers have noticed the qualities that qualified her for the award.

"She's nice to everybody," said CGLA technology teacher Caleb Bagby, who described Carlisha as "very driven" in the classroom. "If she sees somebody who is down, she goes and talks to them. She's just an all-around good person."

At the five-year old CGLA charter school, Carlisha is the first recipient of the Outstanding Leadership Award, and Executive Director Elaine Swafford is hopeful that her accomplishments will inspire other girls at the school.

"We're looking for leadership in our building," Swafford said. "So what a great way for this magnificent award to say, 'Look what you can do if you just do what you need to do and step up to the plate.'

"The other girls have Carlisha to look to and to try and imitate that in some manner."

To Carlisha, receiving an honor is simply affirmation of the way she conducts herself each day.

"The award means that I can keep doing what I'm doing," Carlisha said, "and keep making the world a better place."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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