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A Mentor Among Us

Feb. 28, 2012

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Stop. Take a moment and answer the following question: Who’s made a difference in your life? Everyone has someone to thank for taking the time to listen, for providing clarity in a murky situation, for giving much-needed advice in times of transition, or for offering a gentle nudge at just the right time.

In my life, there are too many to count, but I can tell you with great confidence that I would not be where I am without the mentors in my life — the people who have taken the time to lift me up and show me that I matter and am worth the investment.

Cindy Townsend knows a thing or two about mentoring, so much so that she was asked to join Jackson Preparatory School for the express purpose of sharing her knowledge and expertise in the development of students through what is known as the Global Leadership Institute, a groundbreaking curriculum-based program that seeks to educate students beyond the classroom.

Jackson Prep has long been known for developing outstanding athletes and scholars, but school leaders felt the school had more to teach.

“At Jackson Prep, we aim to prepare young people for lives of distinction as world-class leaders,” said Head of School Susan R. Lindsay.

Based on this vision and Townsend’s “heart for students” and expertise, she was invited by Lindsay and the Board of Directors to help them realize this longtime dream — to set the standard in leadership development among secondary schools in the State of Mississippi.

Townsend, a Jackson native, received her B.S. in Education and Master of Music Education degrees from Mississippi College. She also holds a Master’s degree in Christian Education from New Orleans Theological Seminary. Townsend will soon receive her Doctorate in Student Leadership from New Orleans Theological Seminary.

But Townsend’s education and experience extend well beyond the classroom; first and foremost, Townsend’s experience comes from having been mentored herself.

“I met the precious Charlotte Triplett when she was 74 years old,” Townsend said. “She taught me how to live and die with grace. My mother, Barbara Malone continues to teach me how to love unconditionally, and my father, Dr. Byron Malone, taught me strength.

“These people, and many more, have made an investment in my life. In turn, I am called to be a people builder in my own life.”

Townsend has extensive professional experience in youth education and ministry, beginning at First Baptist Church in Jackson, where she served as Student Minister for 10 years. She later served as Minister of Discipleship and Students at Ridgeland’s Highland Colony Baptist Church, before moving to Louisiana and Texas with her family.

In Louisiana, Townsend served as Director of Women’s Missions and Ministry from the Louisiana Baptist Convention, where she coordinated all activities for women, children and teenage girls.

In Texas, Townsend taught high school music, wrote for several national Christian-based publications and served on the board of directors for Hope for the Hungry, an organization that meets the needs of orphans and other people in need in more than 30 countries worldwide.

Townsend has coordinated and led many service-based mission endeavors throughout the United States and abroad including Haiti, Romania and England. And this month, she will be taking a group of Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy students on a mission trip to France.

Throughout her career, Townsend has served as a featured inspirational speaker at conferences and retreats for students and women, often sharing the microphone with her daughter Taylor.

“I am an ordinary woman passionately serving an extraordinary God,” she said. “Some of my days revolve around life’s ordinary tasks and responsibilities — washing clothes, cleaning house and grocery shopping.

“In the midst of the ordinary, I am keenly aware of God’s presence and his ability to weave his way into my day.”

It is exactly that foundation that Townsend encourages Jackson Prep’s junior high and high school students to build upon — doing small things with great love.

“I agree with Emerson, ‘For one life to have breathed easier because I have lived, that is to have succeeded,’ ” she said.

Although Townsend has a lifetime of experience serving as a mentor, both personally and professionally, she was put into position at Jackson Prep without a roadmap.

Jackson Prep is very proud that the Global Leadership Institute is the first of its kind in the state, but with that came its own set of challenges, Townsend explained.

With the full support of the school’s leaders, Townsend jumped in feet first and began developing the school’s one-of-a-kind curriculum that reaches children at every age and every stage, beginning in the seventh grade, where students are taken through a custom curriculum designed to help each student celebrate his or her own uniqueness. The first year, students also conduct in-depth character studies of leaders like Mother Teresa and Sam Walton.

The following year, students participate in a leadership retreat and specialized forums throughout the year. Eight grade curriculum centers around the four personality types and the strengths of each.

In preparation for high school, passion is the focus of freshman students.
The tenth grade program connects each student with an adult leader who will serve as both a personal and professional mentor. The program provides various events for students and mentors to connect, but outside mentoring relationships are also encouraged.

As high school juniors, the focus shifts on giving back to the world around them through a year of philanthropy. Each student is asked to design his or her own philanthropic endeavors and work with classmates to make a difference in the life of someone over the course of the year.

Seniors are challenged to explore the purpose of life and the power entrusted to them through periodic Senior Power Luncheons held throughout the year.

The Global Leadership Institute also hosts additional parent and student forums, including The Distinguished Leader Series, which presents accomplished individuals from various disciplines and expertise. Notable speakers include Pinelake Pastor Chip Henderson, Chicago White Sox Player Chris Snopek and Good Morning America Host and Mississippian Robin Roberts.

“As Director of the Global Leadership Institute and Director of Community Service, I have the opportunity every day to help students grow and develop as leaders,” Townsend said. “My goal — and our mission — is to challenge our students to grow intellectually, while also linking their minds with the passions of their hearts.”

Townsend and her husband Bill live in Flowood with their children William and Taylor. Bill currently serves as Legal Council to the President and Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Mississippi College. William is a Jackson Prep student and athlete. Taylor is a freshman Pre-Med major at Mississippi College and will be competing in this year’s Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg, representing Mississippi College.