Petty guest column

The Wilson Central culinary team starts plating an appetizer for judges during the Culinary Challenge at the 10th annual Taste of Wilson County event last Thursday at the Wilson County Expo Center. Those pictured include: Justin Bilbrey, Nicole Abston, Kiara Davis and Zachary Grubbs. The Wildcats would claim victory in the event over rival Lebanon High School. Taste of Wilson County raises money to support Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce educational programs and grants. DALLUS WHITFIELD

As is the case many nights for this slightly aging, but still full of energy and creativity woman, last night I found it hard to sleep. It was a combination of sheer exhaustion and total elation.

Taste of Wilson has been a long-time favorite event for many of us, but this year it meant so much more.

Wednesday night, Chamber board members were sent an SOS. Due to scheduling changes regarding impending inclement weather, replacement student volunteers were needed to make sure the event would be its usual success. 

I immediately forwarded the e-mail to our Lebanon Special School District Staff and a handful of our parents, and within a couple of hours, the volunteers needed were in place. They were sixth-eighth grade students comprised of BETA Club members, Kindness Cadets and members of the LSSD Family and Community Engagement Advisory Council. 

Chamber board members had also secured several equally qualified and delightful high school students to assist for the night.

When the student volunteers arrived, a couple of them expressed some trepidation in serving for the night. Chamber Education Chairman Curt Baker briefed students with details on what to expect and they relaxed. Helping us mentor the group for the night was Chamber board chairman-elect Greg Butler, who is one of the most highly effective, yet gentle, professionals you will ever meet. 

Before the event started, we watched students organize stations, introduce themselves to other volunteers and to those in charge, and gather the materials they would need for the night. For more than four hours, student volunteers exhibited the working together skills taught to them by their parents, school staff, advisors and our community stakeholders — skills that we hope to instill in our system wide Be Kind LSSD initiative.

Towards the end of the event, one of the students who had expressed that he was a little nervous about the night, excitedly shared with me, “I am either really tired, or my confidence has really gone up tonight!” That emotionally honest statement is one only a young person would make, and in a huge room in the Expo Center, surrounded by a sea of people and hustle and bustle, it stopped me in my tracks. 

I walked around the room and saw the student artwork that LSSD and WCS art teachers submitted, including 3D donuts and hand designed clay coffee mugs. I saw our Neon Bus and Kindness Care-a-Van, and the new Wilson County Literacy Bus, vehicles school systems use to both feed and educate our students.

I saw our beloved LSSD leader, Scott Benson, who looks forward to serving as a “grill master” each year. He immediately gave me several samples of his perfectly seasoned chicken strips, hot off the new indoor grills our dignitaries were using in their friendly cookoff competition. 

Next, I saw Assistant Director of Schools Becky Kegley, who was so proud of how our students were representing our school system. 

The new Middle Tennessee Electric Grilled Cheese Cart was there and I thought about all the Sharing Change Grants that have been awarded in Wilson County that directly support our students. 

And finally, I looked around and saw a myriad of faces of coworkers, our never tiring and always inspiring LSSD teachers. Most of them had made the event into a Girls Night Out and were laughing and eating and telling me to check their teeth before I snapped their photo.

At the end of my reflective last lap for the evening, it was time to start cleaning up. I saw Chamber staff members start amping it up. Our student volunteers followed their example and gathered up the final trash, tore down tables and chairs, and asked what they could do next … wow.

Many of them thanked me for allowing them to be part of a night that they said was a really fun chance for them to serve.

Then came the second comment that caused me to pause for the evening. Greg Butler said that if these students were the face of the future of Wilson County, we were truly blessed and in really good shape.

So, lying awake and musing over an incredible event, Taste of Wilson morphed into a much larger vision of the very best place in the world with the very best people in the world who all work together to make sure we keep it that way.

Beth Petty is the Family Resource Center Director and Community Relations Manager for the Lebanon Special School District.

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