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By Alicia Couch Payne

Last Monday, I was seated in a small conference room with three other adults and a steady procession of high school seniors.  Sounds like torture? I thought it would be something close to that. I was so wrong! Now I have you wondering what put me in a situation like that.  Well, one word….Kiwanis.

The North Gwinnett Voice is a proud member of the Kiwanis Club of North Gwinnett.  This particular branch of Kiwanis does fundraisers all year long to be able to give out numerous scholarships to deserving high school seniors in our community.  Kiwanis of North Gwinnett awards scholarships to seniors at Lanier High School, Mill Creek High School, Buford High School, North Gwinnett High School, and Mountain View High School.

Every year Kiwanis holds a few main fundraisers to help fund these scholarships.  Those fundraisers include a golf tournament, Father Daughter Valentine’s Dance, Vidalia Onion Sales, and the Sweet Onion Run.  

So back to how I got involved in this.  Emails were sent out to members asking for volunteers to interview the scholarship applicants at each school.  My publisher sent the email to me asking if I would be willing to participate. I signed myself up for my alma mater, North Gwinnett High School. It was to be an all day thing starting at 8:30 a.m. and lasting until 2:30 p.m.

After I got my kids off to school, I stopped by Racetrac for coffee and doughnuts to share.  I have learned it’s always best to take food with you everywhere. I turn diva when hungry. We had 14 applicants to interview for the day.  The Kiwanis leader for the NGHS scholarship interviews, Phil Olsen went over what myself and two other Kiwanis members could expect, what to ask the students, etc. I am still thinking at this point that I am in for a long boring day and I would have trouble paying attention.  I have attention deficit issues at times.

The applicants starting coming in one by one.  These kids had me so interested in their stories, their journeys, their futures that I often lost track of time.  In this group of seniors, one wants to be a pediatrician, another work on environmental policy, a game designer, an engineer, and the list goes on.  I met one applicant who had accumulated over 2,000 community service hours during the course of his high school career. Several have overcome tough obstacles already in their lives and managed to earn good grades and give back to their community.  We met several amazing musicians, top level athletes, and leaders in their school. I found the students to be engaging, articulate, funny, confident, hopeful, resourceful, respectful, and of course highly intelligent.

After all the applicants were interviewed, us four interviewers had to rank our top five applicants out of the fourteen we screened.  Talk about a difficult job! To make it clear, every single one of these students were amazing. I managed to come up with my top five.  Everyone’s top five were tallied up as a whole to come up with the five seniors who would each receive one of the scholarships slated for North Gwinnett. Our overall top five list was given to the counselors and our job was done.

Kiwanis of North Gwinnett will return to the high school to present those five seniors with their scholarships at the Senior Honors Night on May 21st.  I am hoping to be able to attend. I want to go full circle with this experience, to congratulate those phenomenal teens. They gave me hope for the next generation and most importantly, took me down a peg or two.  Everyone needs to have their thoughts, assumptions, and biases blown to bits every now and then. I will honestly say I was completely wrong about this whole situation and I cannot wait until I can do this again next year with a new crop of seniors.

For more information on the Kiwanis Club of North Gwinnett, it’s fundraisers, and charities, please visit

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