Mayor Encourages Young Leaders at Dalton’s ‘Level Up’ Graduation Ceremony

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Mayor Annalee Sams poses with the Level Up Winter 2024 graduates and instructors

Dalton Mayor Annalee Sams addressed the graduating class of the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department’s “Level Up” leadership program on Friday evening, urging the young students to embrace their best selves and set a positive example for their peers. The ceremony, which honored 15 students and included their families along with program leaders and mentors, took place at the Mack Gaston Community Center.

The “Level Up” program spans eight weeks and caters to middle school-aged students, offering sessions where they receive presentations from community leaders, engage in small group discussions, and connect with mentors. The program, conceptualized by Audrey Simmons, the assistant manager of the community center and a licensed therapist, draws inspiration from John Maxwell’s book “Leading From The Lockers,” focusing on four pillars of leadership: integrity, attitude, commitment, and vision.

Simmons emphasized the importance of instilling these principles in young minds early on, stating, “We want them to start thinking about having integrity, about being committed, about having a vision for yourself and having good perspective and attitude.”

Originally initiated in 2019, the program was temporarily halted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the initial curriculum included a component on community service and volunteerism, Simmons noted a shift after COVID, with plans to reintegrate volunteer work in future sessions. Additionally, the program shifted its focus to solely include 7th and 8th graders based on observations that this age group seemed more receptive.

Mayor Sams addressed the graduates, urging them to leverage their influence on social media positively, emphasizing the importance of spreading accurate information and fostering a culture of positivity within the community.

The Winter 2024 session featured presentations from various community figures, including Whitfield County Magistrate Judge Rodney Weaver, NAACP President Marisa Kelley, and representatives from local law enforcement and social services. Mentors from the community also played a vital role in guiding the young leaders throughout the program.

The Winter 2024 Level Up graduates include Mary Susan Broadrick, Emma Barry, Tre Carter, Yuvi Calderon, Jalen Davis, Manny Taylor, Steven Minchew, Brisa Moreno, Oguchim Nwaba, Abigail Santos, Brantlee Simpson, Ethan Smith, Lanaya Taylor, Braylen Weaver, and Anslie Wright.

For information on future “Level Up” class sessions, follow the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department’s website and Facebook page or contact Audrey Simmons at 706-278-8205.