“I am being exposed to a new side of how charitable organizations operate – a side that few in the field I will enter have been exposed to,” she said. “I am building a knowledge base and awareness about the wide variety of organizations serving people in the Atlanta area. But I’m also learning the business side of what it takes to make organizations work for their causes. I’m seeing that it takes more than passion and that a good idea and good intentions are not enough to make an organization able to serve. I also am learning about the large role foundations play in helping organizations serve their intended populations and accomplish their missions. I am very impressed.” Johnson took full advantage of the many service and leadership opportunities available at Berry to help her build her future – the types of experiences that led to her nomination at Berry to apply for the prestigious fellowship and to her eventual selection. “During the fellowship interview process, Meredith stood out to us because of the leadership roles she held at Berry, her strong commitment to community service and her outstanding academic record,” said Lizzy Smith, grants officer for the Woodruff, Whitehead and Evans foundations. “We have been extremely pleased with Meredith’s performance. It is obvious that Berry prepared her well for this role.” A BUSY FOUR YEARS
Johnson didn’t waste any time getting started at Berry. “When she became president of Habitat for Humanity in the freshman year, we knew we had a special student,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Debbie Heida. Johnson held that presidency throughout her four years at Berry while also founding an English as a Second Language program at a local church, interning with the Northwest Georgia Latin American Center and volunteering with numerous charities. Her work experience was extensive and included heading Berry’s Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) program attended by more than 700 incoming students and their families. In addition to
While on her honeymoon last July, Meredith Smith Johnson posed in Matapalo, Costa Rica, with the same students she taught in 2007 as part of the Partners in Progress program between Berry and the Fundación Progreso Guanacaste.
planning, scheduling and developing a guidebook for the program, her responsibil ities included hiring, training and supervising a team of 15 student leaders. “It was a lot of responsibility,” she said. “No other school gives such responsibility to students.” Johnson was also named to the Phi Kappa Phi academic honor society and the Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society and won such awards as the Martha Berry Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Achievement, the Exchange Club of Rome Book of Golden Deeds Award, the Heart of Berry Award, and the Gloria Shatto Leadership and Service Award. Three experiences stand out most in her mind, however: three years as a Peer Educator with the Berry College Counseling Center developing prevention programs for high-risk behaviors, three years mentoring two students through Rome’s Communities in Schools program, and seven weeks immersed in the culture of Costa Rica as she helped local kindergarteners learn English. “My work as a Peer Educator and a mentor confirmed my interest in counseling and piqued my interest in prevention,” Johnson said. “These experiences helped me determine what I am most passionate about. I hope to work with at-risk kids in a school setting or with a nonprofit serving the same population.” Participation in the Partners in Progress program in Costa Rica cemented Johnson’s particular interest in working with Hispanic and Latino populations. Partners in Progress is a collaborative effort between Berry College and the Fundación Progreso Guanacaste, a nonprofit organization founded by Berry Trustee Emeritus H.G. “Pat” Pattillo to make a positive difference in the lives of the people in the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica. Berry students selected
for participation have the opportunity to live with local families as they work in local schools. “It was a new experience in a new place and took me out of my comfort zone,” Johnson said. “I love the country. I love the language, the people and the Latin American culture.” The experience had such an impact on Johnson that she took her husband, Marc Johnson (10C), to Costa Rica for their honeymoon after they married in the Berry College Chapel last summer. “I wanted to share with my husband the really big impact the experience and country had on me,” she said. “I wanted to share the area and the people I learned to love.” THE NEXT STEP
Johnson will head to Harvard in September 2012 after completing her fellowship. She believes firmly that her future would be very different had she not attended Berry. “Berry offers so many volunteer, extracurricular, work experience and leadership opportunities,” she explained. “And everyone encourages involvement – to try different things. I grew from the abundant opportunities. They helped me meet my full potential. I wouldn’t have done that elsewhere.” She also believes that her Woodruff and Whitehead Fellowship will be equally valuable. “The foundations have such rich histories, as do the families who created them,” she said. “I am so impressed by all that the founders did to make sure that their money would count and how the staff members are dedicated to the same thing. I see how respected the foundations are – the high regard in which they are held. The experience of working with them will hold great value as I move forward.” B
BERRY MAGAZINE • WINTER 2011-12