Academy for Success: Mastering Soft Skills


🎧 🎙For an expanded overview of the Academy for Success, listen to South Georgia Insider Podcast on Buzzsprout, Apple Podcast, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.


On a recent South Georgia Insider Podcast episode, Deanna Smith, with the Investment Center at CBC Bank, and Kristin Hanna from the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta (BGV) discuss how a Leadership Lowndes (LL) class project evolved into an active workforce training program.

In addition to attending programs focused on education, government, healthcare, and other topics impacting Lowndes County, LL class members work in small groups to complete a service project that addresses a need within the community.

A 2019 LL graduate, Smith said fellow classmate, Joe Buck, noted a need for workers, especially teenagers, to learn soft skills.

After identifying the workforce project, LL group members, including Smith, Buck, Jeanna Allums, Lauren Brown, Rico Tucker, and Will Wright, met with BGV representatives Cathy Parker and Bill Holt to create the Academy for Success, now in its fourth year.

After telling them about the soft skills concept, Smith said, “They lit up like Christmas trees” and were “on board” with providing the necessary resources.

Hanna said the program came at the right time, as the BGV was looking for ways to assist their students in developing skills like communicating effectively, arriving at work on time, and other essential traits needed to retain a job.

Serving more than 1,000 children and teens in Lowndes and Brooks counties, the BGV provides certified teachers to assist students with homework and academic lessons. Students also participate in recreational activities and are served a hot meal before they return home.

The Academy for Success is an eight-week program focused on teaching students how to get a job and keep it.

Starting with the job-seeking portion, students learn how to complete an application, improve communication skills, and understand the importance of an excellent social media presence.

“The third class is a lot of fun–it’s dressing for success,” said Smith, which includes a “what not to wear” fashion show with local business leaders demonstrating inappropriate interview and work clothing.

“This day is fun, and it changes the relationships so much,” Hanna said. “These very professional, polished adults are suddenly walking in some pretty wacky clothes. I think it breaks down a lot of barriers.”

The program also teaches some “lost art” skills, like the proper way to give a handshake.

“We will stand in the corner of the room and have the kids come around and introduce themselves,” Smith explained. “Then we give immediate feedback, and [the students] move to the next person. We try to solidify that feedback so they can improve each time.”

During the interview class, students practice answering common questions before participating in formal mock interviews, where local business leaders conduct five-minute mock interviews and provide feedback.

The second half of the program demonstrates ways to keep a job, from respecting authority to how to deal with workplace challenges.

Smith said the program also teaches networking and conversation, along with basic etiquette, including table manners.

“We are prepping them for the last week when we put it all together,” said Smith, noting that the final class is a paparazzi-style event.

The highlight of the class is the graduation ceremony. Students are transported to a local restaurant via limousine and walk the red carpet as government officials and business leaders cheer them on.

Once inside, the students dine with business leaders and engage in conversation to build relationships and practice their newly learned communication skills.

The Academy for Success is offered annually, and students apply to participate.

“We only take ten kids per class because we want to keep it intimate,” said Smith. “We want to keep it the size where we can really pour into the kids and develop a relationship.”

Hanna said the program has been successful in helping BGV students find and keep employment.

Volunteers and corporate sponsors are needed to sustain the program’s growth. Business leaders interested in participating can email Smith at or Hanna at

For a complete overview of the 𝐀𝐜𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐲 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐒𝐮𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬 program, listen to 𝐒𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐡 Georgia 𝐈𝐧𝐬𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐏𝐨𝐝𝐜𝐚𝐬𝐭 on Apple, Spotify, major podcast platforms, and online at


AFS Class of 2022: MIa Brown, Aiyana Delarosa, Demiyah Grogan, Takeriyona Brown, and Camille Adkins.


AFS Class of 2020: Khalef Cook, William Dotson, JaMiracle Duncan, D’Anthony Duncan, Fantasis Pye, Jadus Terry, Terrell Waller, and Aleasha Irving.


AFS Class of 2019: Jaquis Irvine, Julian Zane, Joshua Robinson, Caldreonna Berrian, JaShawn Morrison, Johnna McCormick, Imani Barnes, Cole Fromm, Keiojhae Grant.



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