Two Shelby County students were recently honored as recepients of Smith Scholarship Foundation awards. Rebecca Johnson from Oak Mountain High School and Forest Whittaker from Chelsea High were both awarded scholarships from the J. Craig and Page T. Smith Scholarship Foundation, which provides full tuition for Alabama high school seniors who plan to attend Alabama colleges or universities.
The Smith Scholarship Foundation requires active leadership and cultural experience to foster community service and social accountability. Students are chosen from a competitive application process of more than 1,000 annual applications. Those selected must have demonstrated an ability to overcome adversity and hardship and succeed in contradiction to the odds with a selfless commitment to give back to others while continuing to meet personal challenges to become independent self-sufficient young adults.
Johnson has outstanding community service in excess of 600 hours. She is active in the Christian Service Mission Internship working with churches in the inner city neighborhoods to encourage healthy behaviors and combat the results of poverty and impoverished communities. She also works in the East Lake Initiative remodeling homes to provide housing for families in need, mentoring inner city children, leading vacation Bible school, and cleaning and painting at Barett Elementary School. She teaches music camp, both drums and vocals, encouraging students to use expressive and creative outlets. She participates in fundraising for Grace House Ministries and was the top fundraiser for Relay for Life Terry Team. She also served as the key organizer in her church’s state wide Rejuvenate Conference.
Johnson worked extensive hours in an after school program assisting students with homework and recreational activities as well as providing child care for several families. Through her work with mentoring and childcare, she discovered a great love and joy working with children.
Johnson would like to combine this passion with her lifelong interest in the medical field to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner for children. She will be pursuing her studies in nursing at the University of South Alabama.
Johnson has worked on mission trips in Costa Rica where she met many families suffering from hardships through medical trauma. She has experienced firsthand the struggles these families encounter when seeking medical treatment for their children. She wrote in her application that she tries hard not to take for granted that she lives in close proximity to five hospitals and realizes her own medical trauma of managing an Auto Immune Disorder, Lupus, and a thyroid condition would be much greater were it not for the medical access she has enjoyed. It is her long term goal to move to Costa Rico and work with organizations to create a Children’s Hospital program in that country to meet its children’s needs.
At school, she was involved with P.A.L.S., the French Club, FBLA, Soccer Sweeties, and Peer Assistants and served as the Paragon Yearbook Editor receiving numerous yearbook honors for her layout and design work.
Whittaker is an award-winning band member participating in the Auburn, Troy and University of Alabama High School Honor Bands. He received All State honors and serves in the JROTC and Beta Club while volunteering with the Church of the Highlands Dream Center helping prepare meals for the elderly and the shut-ins with the Dunnavant Community Center. Forrest also runs his own yard service, cutting grass and doing landscaping to help provide funds for his family.
At home, Forrest helps takes care of his younger brother and assists his father, who was injured in 2005 while rescuing a young child as a firefighter. Whittaker helped care for his father through numerous back and heart surgeries and a partial amputation resulting from diabetes and bone infection. These conditions coupled with congestive heart failure forced his father to give up the job he loved. Whittaker saved his father from certain death by calling 911 after he had developed an infection in his kidneys and heart. Whittaker’s dedication to his single parent is nothing short of heroic.
Whittaker wrote in his application essay that his father is hero and that he taught him that “there is no greater good that helping our fellow man.”
Whittaker wants to take his experiences and develop software and technology to improve medical care, particularly medical trauma. He will be studying computer science this fall at UAB.