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Edgefield County teens wins $5,000 scholarship from state's co-ops

Laney Willis, a senior at Strom Thurmond High School, is the winner of the 2020 R.D. Bennett Community Service Scholarship. The $5,000 scholarship is sponsored by South Carolina's electric cooperatives and is open to any student attending either the Washington Youth Tour or Cooperative Youth Summit—both programs presented by the state's co-ops. Willis, of Johnston, organized a BBQ fundraiser and used the proceeds to assemble care packages for residents at The Ridge Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center of Edgefield during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most rewarding thing was seeing the sense of joy on the residents’ faces when I dropped off the bags,” said Willis. “Everyone worked so hard to make this happen.”

“Laney implemented a grass roots campaign that aligns with the spirit of electric cooperatives,” said Muriel Gouffray, Marketing & Strategic Services Manager at Aiken Electric Cooperative. "The project reached out to a community that has been isolated from the comfort of human touch and the joys of spending time with family due to the pandemic.”

Willis was orginially selected by Aiken Electric Cooperative to attend the Cooperative Youth Summit--a weeklong trip to Columbia where high school students learn about cooperatives and state government. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that trip did not take place in 2020. Willis, however, did take part in an online Virtual Youth Experience that provided students a chance to interact with state leaders and each other this summer.

Willis was one of five students from across the state who completed community service projects for a chance at the $5,000 scholarship.

Other students competing were:

  • Jack Barney of Hilton Head Island (Palmetto Electric Cooperative)
  • Katelyn Barefoot of Gilbert (Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative)
  • Taemaisha Collins of Georgetown (Santee Electric Cooperative)
  • Daniel Watson of Pickens (Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative)

The R.D. Bennett Community Service Scholarship is named for Robert D. Bennett, the first general manager and executive vice president of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Inc. Bennett, who led the state association from 1950 until his retirement in 1980, strongly believed that electric cooperatives should support their local communities—providing a better quality of life for their members. His spirit of community service is reflected in this scholarship opportunity.

Watch the live scholarship announcement below.

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