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ASHTABULA — A local community leader was honored by a statewide group for volunteering at the G.O. Community Development Corporation and helping transform his community.
Olajuwan Smith, 20, a sophomore at Akron University, was awarded the title of "CDC Community Leader of the Year" at the Ohio CDC Association's 2015 conference Oct. 1-2 at Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center. More than 250 community leaders from around the state attended the event.
"The most important and valuable hobby that I can do is volunteering," he said. "I feel that it is something everyone should try to do. Giving back to the community is a wonderful thing."
Nate Coffman, executive director of the Ohio CDC Association, said award winners inspire them to step up their revitalization efforts.
“Their dedication and hard work give us examples of what’s possible in each of our communities," he said in a news release.
The Ohio CDC Association is a statewide organization of Community Development Corporations that "engages in capacity building, advocacy and public policy development that fosters socially and economically healthy communities," according to its website.
Smith took the time out of his summer vacation from college to teach classes at the G.O. CDC community center on Station Avenue. These three-hour classes ran for three months, three days per week.
"He devoted his time and skills to teach computer classes free of charge," said Frances Norman, food coordinator at G.O. CDC. "He instructed a broad age-range of students, yet treated each student with the utmost respect."
Smith's teaching skills and presentations go well beyond his years, Norman said.
Smith started teaching at G.O. CDC three years ago, when he was a senior at Lakeside High School, beginning with a basic-level computer class. Upon completing the first class, each student received a laptop, made possible by a grant from the York Foundation.
Ashtabula Area City Schools Superintendent Patrick Colucci said Smith is a "phenomenal example" of how hard work and persistence can turn into success. Smith graduated in 2014 with a 3.8 GPA and won the presidential academic excellence award.
"He is a high-achieving student that knows how to overcome adversity," Colucci said. "We are so proud of all he has done for himself, our students and community. He has a great future ahead of him."
Smith developed his own curriculum, syllabus, quizzes, tests and assignments. The Ashtabula Area City Schools District provided the computers and equipment, making the classes possible.
"I still teach computers at G.O. CDC, but with my class schedule, it's much harder to teach full-time," Smith said. "During the summer, I taught a variety of classes: Introduction to Microsoft Office, Computer Basics and Intermediate Computers."
He said he would like to teach math, so he's thinking about starting at intermediate algebra class.
"One reason I teach is because I love learning things," Smith said. "I believe learning is something that should be enjoyable and exciting, and getting to be the person who turns on that light bulb in the student's mind and help them feel successful is awesome."
Smith is now going to college for computer engineering, but his students said he should go for a teaching degree.
“Olajuwan is a great teacher,” Ashtabula resident Dee Jones said. “He’s very knowledgeable. He makes sure we all understand.”
A graduate of Lakeside High School, Smith is a sophomore at the University of Akron and part of the university's Co-Op program.
"Choosing to co-op means I will complete my first five semesters of study and then begin alternating a semester of paid employment in my major with a semester of classroom study, until my senior level," he said. This program enables me to integrate classroom instruction with practical and valuable on-the-job experience."
At the end of five years, Smith will have accumulated 12 or more months of work experience.
"I want to be a success story from Ashtabula," he said.