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Student Organization Encourages Community Service While Developing Leadership Skills

Young 1 JULY 21, 2020 – Two years ago, three Forsyth County high school students established an organization to encourage community service while helping high school students develop their skills as leaders.

Since then, participants in Forsyth County Young Leaders have worked with mentors in such community organizations and educational institutions as Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, the Winston-Salem Recreation & Parks Department, and Salem College.

Earlier this year – thanks to a grant from Young Leaders - Porsche Smith, who will be a senior at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, was able to make a donation to Second Harvest, and Abigail Egnatz, who will be a senior at Mount Tabor High School, was able to make a donation to the Novant Health Disaster Relief Fund.

In the years since Young Leaders was established, students from such Winston-Salem/Forsyth County high schools as Reagan, Parkland, Mount Tabor, Atkins, Reynolds and Early College of Forsyth and from such private schools as Forsyth Country Day have participated.

The founders of Young Leaders are Yasmin Horner and her sister, Sarina Horner, and Austin Cook. Cook, who served as president this year, is a 2020 graduate of Reagan and will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sarina Horner, who will serve as vice president this year, will be junior at Forsyth County Day, and Yasmin Horner is now in college at the University of Virginia.

The president this coming school year is Sirena Lovato, who is a senior at Reagan High.

The organization is open to all high school students in Forsyth County. The 25 or participants in the Young Leaders program are selected for a one-year term, and applications for the 2020-21 school year are now open. Applications to participate in the Forsyth County Young Leaders program are due July 30th. Virtual interviews are August 5 & 6. To apply, go to Apply

Don Martin, who is the Vice Chairman of the Forsyth County Commissioners, is one of the community leaders who has served as a mentor in the program. 

“The Forsyth Young Leaders program provides an opportunity for high school students to pursue interests and passions that they have and connect with someone in the community who can guide them to the successful completion of a project of their choosing,” Martin said. 

“It provides high school students with an opportunity to gain some real-world experience in leading a project that can make a difference.”

Young 2 Martin learned about Young Leaders from Austin Cook.

“Austin Cook sang in my church choir before the pandemic and will now be heading off to college,” Martin said. “Two years ago, she announced to our choir that she was inviting people who would be willing to mentor a high school student as part of a Wake Forest sponsored leadership program called Forsyth Young Leaders.”  

“I volunteered and the group matched me with Sirena Lovato.  I attended several of the training sessions and essentially the mentors were asked to help their mentee accomplish a leadership project of their choosing. Mentors were not to create the project or do the work but facilitate their efforts.”

“Sirena is a well-rounded, hard-working young woman. She had an interest in climate change and wanted to do a project that would help students better advocate for climate change.  We met once a month throughout the school year at Reagan High School before or after school and I introduced her to some other ‘mentor helpers’ at a convenient Starbucks.” 

“We talked through many ideas – building a windmill at Reagan that would provide electric current back to the Duke Power grid – and I introduced her to Elisabeth Motsinger (who is a member of the WS/FC Board of Education) to talk about a tree-planting project and to identify some other good resources in the community. She eventually settled on the idea of hosting a seminar on a Saturday morning in April that would include presentations by university professors and maybe some advocates.” 

“On her own Sirena was able to secure a couple of rooms at the Bioplace Center in the Innovation Quarter.  She worked on a budget to pay for the rooms and provide lunch. I don't remember the exact amount of the budget – it might have been around $1,000 and I helped identify people that she could contact for donations. She did and the funds were donated for the seminar and deposited in the Reagan High School bank account.”

“Sirena had a contact at Wake Forest in the Science area who also chaired or participated in a group of climate change scientists in NC. I contacted an acquaintance of mine to identify a professor at Winston-Salem State University, and she secured his participation. I also introduced her to Bill Blancato, a local attorney and climate change activist. 

“Sirena's AP Environmental Science teacher helped her contact the other AP Environmental Science teachers and she was able to advertise for the seminar. Her event was a huge success – about 40 students attended, the father of a friend of hers catered lunch and there were three excellent speakers with activities including writing letters to our Congressional delegation in support of the Carbon tax.” 

“Sirena worked very hard and learned a lot from this experience and of course the experience benefited me too!  I renewed my association with Bill Blancato and with his help, the Forsyth County Commissioners passed a resolution to commit to a 50 percent reduction in non-renewable energy use by the county by 2050 - the city of W-S is considered a similar proposal right now.”

Young 3 “I worked with another student this year whose project was cut short by the Pandemic. Sirena has invited me to serve as her Crosby Scholar volunteer mentor for her senior year and I look forward to doing that. “

Forsyth County Young Leaders is interested in having community members serve as mentors. To find out more, email the organization at

Activities planned by Forsyth County Young Leaders for this year include a virtual 9/11 Day of Service.  

Here is some additional information about the organization and upcoming activities provided by Sarina Horner and Austin Cook:

Forsyth County Young Leaders Program in partnership with HandsOn Northwest North Carolina and Wake Forest University Office of Civic and Community Engagement won one of only ten federal grants given nationally this year through Youth Service America (YSA).

We are so honored YSA took such an interest in Forsyth County to provide us with this extraordinary grant of $15,000 (renewable for up to 2 years)! 

As a kick-off to our Youth Engagement Coalition, we're hosting a Town Hall gathering on Thursday, August 6 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. via Zoom. The gathering will include youth leaders from across the community, local nonprofit partners, educational institutions, and others who are interested in removing barriers and creating new ways to engage youth in service. 

At the Town Hall, you'll learn more about how our financial support from YSA will allow us to offer special FREE training to our partners in August, mini-grants that will be available for youth-led projects, and a chance to win a project supply budget in support of your 9/11 Day of Service Project. We hope you will join us for this interactive and engaging session!

To register for the Town Hall, go to Town Hall

We would love lots of input about attracting youth to volunteer. And, if you have an idea for a project you want to put into action in our community, we will also discuss opportunities for grants to be awarded to your service projects!

We will also have a 9/11 Day of Service expected to draw more than 250 youth and adult leaders getting together to discuss how to increase volunteerism in Forsyth County, discussing the barriers, etc. for youth to volunteer. Check our website at Young Leaders for more information on participating in our virtual 9/11 Day of Service.

We will post registration information shortly. If you are interested in leadership training and leading a roundtable discussion at the 9/11 Day of Service on September 11th, please email us at as soon as possible.

Student leaders will run the roundtable discussions on certain topics we figure out through surveys to the community and the discussions during the upcoming Town Hall. It will all be virtual. That invitation will come out once we have the Town Hall meeting to figure out what the topics will be for the 9/11 Day of Service discussions.