Big Plans: Quest to Serve Others Puts Cataula Girl in National Spotlight

Spring 2011 Focus magazine cover      From Focus magazine, Spring 2011 >>

By John Lester

When Hayley Henderson was a young girl, she had a severe speech impediment and doctors told her family she would forever have problems communicating.

However, one therapist didn't believe the pessimistic predictions. After working with Henderson for three years, he signed her up for a public speaking competition with 4-H, and she won first place.

Fast forward about 15 years and that same girl is preparing to sing as a contestant in the Miss Georgia pageant and is already a seasoned conference speaker.

"I've seen that you can become anything you want if you really want it, and I want to show others that," Henderson says. "Through service, working hard and doing something you are really passionate about, you can make a difference."

For Henderson, that sentiment is more than talk; it's a mantra the 20-year-old actively personifies. A junior communication major at Columbus State University, Henderson may be the busiest student on campus.Hayley Henderson encouraged CSU Day volunteers and then helped with deliveries.

Not only is she the reigning Miss CSU, she's also on the March of Dimes National Youth Council, is one of seven Georgia Woman of the Year scholarship recipients, a member of the National Honor Society, facilitates leadership training for students and professionals around the country through FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), works 30 hours a week, serves as a Teen Advisor intern and is an avid volunteer in the community.

"Hayley is an amazing student," says Stuart Rayfield, assistant professor and director of CSU's Servant Leadership Program, in which Henderson participates. "She astounds me on a daily basis with all that she does and the number of things she is involved in outside the classroom, all while still maintaining a 4.0 GPA, which is a just incredible."

Henderson says she's always kept this kind of a schedule, and these kinds of high expectations of herself.

She grew up in Cataula in Harris County, just north of Columbus. From a small town, she had big plans.

By her count, she was involved in 16 different organizations in high school and walked away after graduation with 15 different scholarships. She had her sights set on the University of Georgia and was accepted there on a full scholarship. But Henderson, a deeply spiritual person, said something told her she needed to stay closer to home, so she decided to try Columbus State for a couple of years, thinking she would concentrate on just her studies, then move on to a bigger school.

"I thought I would just get my core classes here and then go. And when I wasn't involved, I felt like I wasn't making a difference. I wasn't meeting anybody. That just wasn't me," she said. "Now, I'm not leaving. I love it here for many reasons."

Caption: Hayley Henderson encouraged CSU Day volunteers and then helped with deliveries this year.