Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy

Along with Principal Cliff Johnston (far left) and Chick-fil-A owner/operator Brandon Paulsen (far right), the DeSoto Central Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy met for the time. The school’s Ambassadors have taken on the Chick-fil-A name with Paulsen’s Getwell Road store sponsoring the group.

It’s not so much a new organization at a DeSoto County school, but it now has gained extra support to help its service mission to the school and the community.

The DeSoto Central High School Ambassador Club recently rebranded itself as the school's Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy, thanks to the backing of operator Brandon Paulsen of the new Chick-fil-A Getwell Road location, which is just north of the school’s campus.

Paulsen and Southaven Chick-fil-A store operator Stuart Davidson are both involved in similar programs aimed at promoting leadership skills and opportunities to high school students in DeSoto County.

“We have Olive Branch and Lewisburg that we are doing this with, and now DeSoto Central,” Paulsen said. Davidson sponsors programs in Hernando, at Lake Cormorant, and at Northpoint Christian School in Southaven.

“We are the Ambassador Club but we have partnered with Chick-fil-A to participate in a Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy,” explained DeSoto Central sponsor Michelle Carter. “While we still are ambassadors, we are Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy members. They kind of go hand-in-hand, with community service and giving back to others.”

Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy, or Leader Academy as it is also known as, is a national high school program, which the company said would bring up more leaders to impact their communities.

The 24 members who are part of the program didn’t just show up one day looking for free food, Carter said.

We put them through a rigorous application process,” Carter said. “They had to submit an application and we looked at several things. We looked at discipline and we looked at grades. We looked at involvement and we chose people that would represent our school in a positive light and could really excel as leaders, step up to the plate when needed.”

Paulsen believes you can’t have enough leaders.

“We all have influence in every area of life that we are a part of, so we want them to understand that they are leaders, even if they don’t have the title of manager, director or top-level person,” Paulsen said.

Carter said the group now are going to regularly meet and learn how to hone their leadership skills.

“We will go through learning labs, which are educational videos that will focus on a leadership topic each time,” Carter pointed out. “We will do an activity that goes along with that video. We’ll go to several community service events, such as the food bank or the animal shelter, things like that.”

It will all culminate with a more significant event to give the youngsters their chance at showing what they have learned.

“In April, we will do something big that the students will pick, because we want them fully invested into it, something like a first responders’ breakfast, or a carnival, in order to truly make an impact,” said Carter. “We want to tailor their leadership skills and have an opportunity to at some point lead something.”

Chick-fil-A gets little out of the program but offers a lot to invest in youth, Paulsen said.

“We sponsor this particular program, so we pay money to give it to the schools, and we can provide materials and things to do the curriculum that they use,” Paulsen explained. “We also come alongside for the kickoff and provide food for them. We’ll also come alongside as they do their community service projects that will culminate the end of the curriculum.”

Just feeding the leaders of the next generation, you might say.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.