A born leader, Weeki Wachee High School graduate Megan Jenkins is this year’s recipient of United Way of Hernando County’s $1,000 Gold Scholarship in the leadership category. This annual scholarship opportunity is facilitated through the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce Education Training Association (CETA) Student Recognition Celebration.
United Way of Hernando County CEO, Angie Walasek, feels that Jenkins is the ideal recipient of the UW leadership scholarship. She stated, “I remember evaluating applications and noting just how strong Megan’s essay was. Not only did she define the definition of ‘leadership’ in a relatable way, but she did a fabulous job sharing her own personal growth and experiences. Her level of community service and volunteerism was also quite impressive! We are proud to invest in such a bright young student and can’t wait to see what her future has to hold.”
Jenkins is honored to receive the scholarship, sharing, “I was notified of my nomination through the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce. Winning this scholarship felt amazing, I have known of United Way since the 8th grade when I participated in a leadership class at my middle school and I have been involved with the work they do on the Born Learning Trails since my junior year of high school, so it was quite the honor to receive a scholarship from them. Having previously worked with the organization made getting this scholarship even better as United Way has a mission that I’m very passionate about.”
Leadership has always been a cornerstone of Jenkins’ life. “Being a student leader has been important to me throughout high school, many people feel that they don’t have a voice and I hope to be someone who through leadership resonates with them in order to make a common voice heard,” she said. “Besides this, being a student leader also means working with others and taking the time to really listen and be made aware of current issues within our county.”
Many of Jenkins’ volunteer activities center around environmental causes. “I am an avid environmentalist and have grown up in Weeki Wachee my entire life, so seeing the detriment that many individuals cause to this beautiful home for native Florida wildlife is something that really impacts me, without the river we lose various ecosystem services that cannot be gained back,” said Jenkins. “A couple of steps that I have taken include being involved in school clean ups to remove invasive species or trash from the Weeki Wachee River alongside my other classmates. I have also written letters to the county commissioners urging them to see the widespread detriment that leaving this space unregulated brings to the area.”
Jenkins also was the co-founder of the Hornet Press, a Weeki Wachee High School student newspaper. She stated, “I actually founded the school newspaper during my sophomore year, after our incoming editor unexpectedly resigned, from then on it was really a passion project. Writing has always been my favorite thing to do since a young age, and I intended to pursue a career in journalism, before I had discovered my love for marine biology.”
Jenkins decided to apply her love for the written word to the establishment of a school news publication. “I have always had a firm belief that people should be able to freely write about anything that sparks their interest, and even though I could write in my English classes that I was taking, I wasn’t able to write anything that I was passionate about such as issues going on around school or in our community, so I decided to really push myself and all of the amazing writers that were in the newspaper club to get an edition out each month starting my junior year,” she said. “This continued into my senior year as well and even though it wasn’t always an easy task I had amazing photographers and writers who were dedicated to the growth of the paper. We went from doing four page editions to at one point having a sixteen page edition. Starting the paper was quite a learning curve for me as our club was not provided any funding in order to use a program or any specific newspaper related software so everything was put together in a new format each month, but once the newspaper staff got the hang of writing and photographing in the style necessary for this things were pretty easy. My amazing newspaper sponsor Jeffrey Spanierman was an incredible help every step of the way, and without his help I would not have been able to keep this club going, let alone watch it grow in the way it has.”
The seeds that Jenkins planted have truly bloomed at Weeki Wachee High. “The club has now been turned into a journalism class where students are able to learn about writing styles and actually given time during school to write their articles, which makes a world of difference in both participation in the program, but also the quality of the paper,” she stated.
And Jenkins has given back to the community through her extensive record of charitable service. “The list goes on and on, I’m honestly crazy about community service. I was the 2021-2022 President of Weeki Wachee High School’s KEY Club chapter and a member my junior year, which allowed me to work with organizations such as Fostering HOPE Kidz Closet and Heart FELT, which are local organizations dedicated to helping families and children within our community get essential items such as food and clothing,” she said. “I was also a member of our school’s environmental club which initially sparked my love for keeping Florida wild. Within the community I have been able to work closely with the Spring Hill Kiwanis Chapter which is also dedicated to helping the kids of Hernando County and the world. I dedicate my love for community service to Miranda Mays who was the 2020-2021 KEY Club President, her love for service even during the difficult time that was COVID is still an inspiration for me today to always persevere and try my best for the community.”
This summer, Jenkins will be attending the University of Florida to study biology in hopes of pursuing a graduate degree in marine biology and going into field research concerning jellyfish and marine organisms. “Short term,” she said. “I want to continue serving my community and helping others through volunteer work and wildlife conservation efforts.”
And she has some special advice for other young people who want to make a difference. “There is no better time than now to start and you never regret trying something new, even if you don’t like it, it never hurts to try,” she said. “Get involved in your community, because it is the most rewarding feeling to know you’re trying to make things better. If you’re not sure where to start talking to your county representatives and school staff, there are so many great
opportunities to help the community no matter your interest that no one talks about enough.”