WINONA -- Two local high school graduates were honored during the Ambitious Girls-Empowered Women and Brothers Building Brothers mentoring programs inaugural scholarship banquet. The banquet honored Winona High School graduates Ambra McCaskill and Cameron Huell and took place at the Winona Community Center on Aug. 4.
Founder Cynthia Pearson said McCaskill and Huell have been a part of the mentoring program since it was first introduced to the community in March 2017.
“They’ve participated in all of the public service events that we’ve had,” Pearson said.
Pearson began the mentoring program as a commitment to help provide better opportunities for the young people in the community. Pearson said the purpose of the program is to teach young people better lifestyle skills and encourage scholastic growth and achievement.
“My daughter Whitney thought of the name when we first initiated the program,” she said.
The mentoring program recently turned one this March. Pearson said when they first began the reception wasn’t warm, but people have warmed up to them.
“Ambra and Cameron were two of the five people that we had to show up to our first event,” Pearson said. “We thought we were going to have a huge outpour, and we had games and prizes set up and only five people showed up.”
But, with a little encouragement from Winona Police Chief Tommy Bibb, Pearson said the reception became warmer, and now the group has between 20 to 25 children that participate.
“The police chief told us that we're going to really have to push this because it was needed in the community,” she said. “He said we would have to encourage the parents. So, the next meeting, we had a parent meeting.”
She said she and Whitney drive down quarterly to meet with the group. Pearson said the group held different events throughout the year. She said for Thanksgiving, they helped her pass out turkeys to the community and in December the group served cake and refreshments to the residents of Winona Manor.
Pearson also said as an incentive – another suggestion from Bibb – the group began an honor roll recognition program where students receive $5 for every A on their report card.
“We know every student won’t have straight A’s, but they can have at least one A on their report card,” she said. “Three of our students had straight A’s, and Ambra was one of those students.”
McCaskill is now attending Holmes Community College, and Huell is now attending Mississippi State University.
McCaskill and Huell each received a $500 scholarship, along with goodies including a college survival kit, an idea from her daughter Whitney that mirrors a college’s exam survival kit.
“We wanted to do something to show them that we appreciated them and we love them,” Pearson said. “We also blessed Ambra with a laptop computer.”
She said the scholarship was made possible through donations.
“I want to thank Pam Keys with Connecting Winona, my daughter Whitney, and my brother John Earl McNutt. I also want to thank the community for an opportunity to serve, and we wish Ambra and Cameron well.”
Pearson said the next meeting will be Sept. 1 and it will be open enrollment for the mentoring program. She said plans are in the works to hold a financial workshop for the mentees in the program.
“We want to encourage them to open up checking and savings accounts,” she said. Pearson said she wants to work with the local banks in hopes of providing the mentees free checking accounts. “We’re trying to teach them those life skills.”