A LaBelle teen, Jarrod Willis, received an invitation to attend the 2021 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. The invitation was a result of a youth leadership forum he attended in Atlanta last year. Knowing the trip would be an expensive but worthy experience, this 14-year-old immediately got to work. He quickly formed his plan to raise the money he would need for the trip.
He began by offering to do any chores he could, for his neighbors. His mother, proud of her son for being such a motivated, self-starter, posted on social media, explaining what her son was hoping to accomplish and why. They were flooded with responses.
Jarrod and his family, life long residents of LaBelle, found that their community was quick to support his efforts. He raked leaves, took out trash, pulled weeds, pressure washed, and worked gardens. He happily accepted any and every task, small or large, that was asked of him. They outpouring of support taught Jarrod just how profoundly special it is to be a part of LaBelle.
Eternally optimistic and powerfully positive for such a young age, the only improvements he could think of, for his community were, “I wish we had more places to hang out,” adding that he was frustrated about, “Not being able to work as a 14 year old in a daily job,” and, “coronavirus has been really hard not being able to see my friends.” He also mentioned that, he would want to witness, “Equality between all races. I have many friends that are not in my race and the hatred I hear of is disgusting.”
When asked who inspired and influenced him the most, he replied, “I was influenced most by my pawpaw (his great grandpa), Cecil Willis, 85. He has always been hard working my whole life. I have never seen him a day in my life, where he was not working in his Grove. Except for when we are on vacation at his Virginia Cabin, and still there he is working cleaning up.”
He also mentioned a few teachers who have helped provide instruction and motivation along the way, “Mrs. Blanset my 5th grade teacher was very one on one and helpful. We also did a lot of hands on that I really liked, and Mr. Holland my 8th English honors teacher made an impact on me, with all of his life lesson lectures, he kept it really and was always funny.”
When asked what he is most proud of, he said, “I am most proud of myself, I know you’re not supposed to be self prideful, but anything I have ever wanted I have worked for. One time, I wanted a new phone, and I worked for it. When I wanted an Xbox one, and my mom said she wouldn’t buy it, I worked for it. The when I went to STEM camp at Emory University, a few years ago, I helped my mom pay for it by pulling weeds for people, and now I’m working lawns here in Labelle and over the summer in Crocker, Missouri.” He went on, “I have earned over $500 so far. This will all goes towards my expenditures while in DC and the travel cost to get there and back,”
Jarrod said. “I do this to help my mom and dad, I don’t want them to have to work harder to get me places if I can do it myself. My mom and dad show me how not all things are handed to you and if you want something work for it.”
He says he deals with hard times by,”talking it out with friends then push through it… and I talk to God,” adding that his personal motto is, “Think you’re the best and you will be the best.”
This young man is described by those who know him as “smart, funny, caring, and determined”. He enjoys being an athlete, and playing some video games, “When I’m not weeding, pressure washing or working the garden.” He plans on attending the University of Florida, “as a football player, and majoring technology.”
He had the following advice for other youth, “Work hard for what ever you want in life, it don’t come easy.”
Jarrod says he wants to attend the 2021 Inauguration, no matter who wins the Presidential election.
It has been reported that the VFW has offered funds to ensure Jarod doesn’t miss this one-of-a-kind experience.