Behind the scenes of the Swainsboro Jaycees
by Halei Lamb | July 12, 2017 10:14 am
by HALEI LAMB
The Swainsboro Jaycees have been an integral part of Emanuel County for more than 75 years. Since 1939, our Junior Chamber has given us much to be proud of. Their humble, altruistic work has touched nearly every citizen here in some form or fashion, but most people have no idea the effort required to bring their many projects to fruition. Mikell Clifton became a Jaycee in 2010 and he recently provided a synopsis of the chapter’s successful longevity.
“I attended a meeting one day at Ware’s Old Mill Barbecue and I really thought it was something I could get behind,” he said about his Jaycee initiation. “I really liked what the Jaycee Creed said. I also really wanted to get active in the community and make a difference, and I saw this as the right vehicle for me.”
Thereafter, he quickly became an extremely active member. He has served as management vice president, heading up a well-attended and well-appreciated Dwight Howard Fun Day for the community. From there, he became local president and even got involved with the state Jaycees. Nowadays, he’s the sitting fair board president.
“The Southeast Georgia Jaycee Fair has a very active board. We’re doing a lot of work to bring a great venue this year,” he said.
This year, our fair as a whole will celebrate its 100th anniversary. (The community fair, that is — not to be confused with the Jaycee fair. The Jaycees only acquired the fair in 1945.) Bearing in mind the number of small fairs being consumed by larger operations on an annual basis, the fact that our community has sustained a fair for so long is a true testament to the work that the Jaycees put in.
Ask any businessperson what ingredients are necessary to do well in any venture and they’ll attest that adaptability is of the essence. Indeed, that is precisely what the Jaycees are doing to prevent becoming a statistic. In lieu of the anniversary, Clifton and his fair board are striving to revamp the fair, aiming for a “fair and festival” feel beginning this year.
“We want to have more ‘festival’ type of events. One of the things we’re looking at is a pumpkin patch. Other ideas we’ve tossed around are worm digging, applebobbing, and stuff like that,” he explained. “We understand that prices are going up, and we’re trying to make sure that all of our patrons are getting a value for coming out.”
Another addition they hope will go over well with their constituents is a haunted house, which is currently being constructed.
But, the best has possibly yet to come. “We have several other ideas that we would like to integrate as we transition. We’re doing it in phases, if you will, because of the financial burdens. We’re being smart about it, but we hope that as we start making these changes, we become half-fair, half-festival. And all of this, we’re trying to incorporate with the normal cost so that when you buy a wristband, all of [the proposed additions are] included with regular gate admission.”
Until then, the Jaycees are anxious to see a receptive, excited public at this year’s production. Those planning to attend should note that the fair has been pushed back a week. Formerly held the first week in October, this year’s fair will take place October 17-21. The revision was made, of course, with the best of intentions for fairgoers, as a new, better midway was locked in.
Dateline aside, Clifton and his fellows want to stress the importance of the fair to its regular attendees and potential newcomers alike. Not only does it provide wholesome, family fun right here in our backyard, but the proceeds are refunded back into the community through means of various sponsorship projects, including but not limited to Dixie Youth baseball, the fishing rodeo at Swainsboro Primary School, and even the Empty Stockings/Toys For Tots holiday philanthropy.
And while the fair project is obviously near and dear to the fair board president’s heart, it’s just one of them. The 4th of July fireworks, he said, happens to be the most fun of them all.
Although it’s impossible to nail down a definitive number, thousands flock to Kite Road and the general vicinity surrounding it to watch the Jaycees’ display. “It takes a lot of work and effort, but to hear the crowds holler afterward, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Clifton said.
When studied, the hard work he speaks of might, to the inexperienced, seem too daunting to handle. To the Jaycees, though, it’s simply another day in the life.
For starters, the fireworks project costs roughly $10,000. The Jaycees work valiantly round the calendar to solicit the funds to pull off the display. A majority of the money is raised through the club’s flag project in which business owners purchase $50 ensigns, which the Jaycees hoist and retire throughout the year. Other funding is accumulated through the Pine Tree Festival and contributions from the City of Swainsboro.
Still, the real work only begins once the money hits the bank.
The local organization has been shooting off their own pyrotechnics for years, so long, in fact, that they’re one of the last-standing organizations allowed to do so. In other words, they’ve been grandfathered in, and that entitlement doesn’t come unearned.
James Ward, Joe Holaway, Jason Moore, and Trent Hall are four of the pertinent pieces that make the puzzle of privilege fit together. They became certified firework technicians through three apprenticeship shows, where they learned wiring and safety, among other keynotes.
With the quad’s know-how in tow, the Jaycees can rock and roll. The Thursday prior, the Jaycees assemble for a refresher course from Ward, who brushes his brothers up on the “do’s and don’t’s” associated with the show. Then, the tubes are inspected, cleaned, and loaded for transport to the Swainsboro Fire Department, who holds them for safekeeping. On the morning of July 4 around 9 a.m., the firecrackers are delivered by the fire department. Upon receipt, the Jaycees commence to set up the show, finally wrapping up around 2 or 3 p.m.
From that point on, it’s a waiting game, one that the Jaycees don’t mind a bit. The Jaycees who aren’t part of the firing squad organize a family fun day for the Jaycee wives and children, providing an ideal opportunity for the men of the club and their families to bond.
When nightfall finally replaces the dusk, the show begins. The rest of the story is familiar history to the public.
“We believe we put on a great show,” Clifton said proudly, “and the audience’s response reinforces that belief.”
While every Jaycee has their favorite project, much like Clifton’s love for the fair, every Jaycee is especially fond of the aforementioned Empty Stocking Fund. A tried and true effort on the local level, the Jaycees’ partnership with Toys For Tots a few years ago has only added to the project’s prosperity. Our Junior Chamber strives to meet the needs of at least 100 families every year, but sometimes, the final number varies. Regardless of the tally, it’s the outcome alone that bears the most weight; so long as children have toys in their stockings and food in their bellies around the holidays, the Jaycees consider their work done.
Of course, if you ask a Jaycee, he’ll tell you that their work wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of our community. While that may be true, their humility becomes them more often than not, resulting in the inadvertent diversion of credit when it’s due.
It is Jaycees like Clifton who make our home a better place to live, work, and play. He’s won every Jaycee award there is, and in doing so, he joined a long line of Jaycees who have set the standard for future members.
The lineage of great expectations dates back to homegrown, influential Jaycees such as George L. Smith II, I. Lee Price, and I. Lee Price Jr., to name a few. These local legends, formally known as alumni, left the Swainsboro Jaycee organization in a better state than they found it and instilled in the rookies how to tend to their craft. That has carried on over the years through the works of those like Hugh Hendrix and Todd Durden, who organized the Hutchinson Memorial Golf Tournament, which is still going strong, having donated some $95,000 over its 20-year stint for the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia and Jaycee Camp Dream, a summer experience for special needs children.
Those expectations would be left unmet, however, if it weren’t for the newcomers who take them to heart. Holaway and Kelly Kirkland, for example, have both, like Clifton, served in the office of state president. Ward is exceptionally passionate about the firework display, and Allen Farley, president of the Swainsboro Jaycees this year, is doing a remarkable job in his leadership position.
That sense of commitment and ardor is the story of every Swainsboro Jaycee, which, in short, is why our local chapter has continued to turn over vast benevolent dividends year in and year out.
“The key is no one project falls on one person’s shoulders. It’s all-hands-on-deck in everything we do. Everybody is involved, and every member stands out in their own way,” Clifton explained.
It also helps that the Jaycees just enjoy one another’s company, or the brotherhood, as they call it.
“We average about 25 members a year, which is what we aim for. The brotherhood we share is a huge part of what the Jaycee organization is. We tell all of our members that if they need something, we’re here for one another, and we mean that. If you need help moving, you call your Jaycee buddies and they’ll help. If you need help at the fairgrounds, you call your Jaycee buddies,” said Clifton. “That’s what the brotherhood is all about, and that’s what people don’t see.”
One way they foster that camaraderie is through their meetings, held every Thursday without fail with a meal to boot. Two of these Thursdays are set aside for business meetings while the other two are general membership gatherings.
With 78 years of experience under their belt, the Jaycees are certainly doing something right. Say what you will about Emanuel County, but one aspect we absolutely must be proud of is our Junior Chamber. It’s the longest-running organization of its kind in the state, and its rich history and visible impact throughout our 632-square-mile county all serve as proof of such.
“What I love about being a Jaycee is that however much you want to do in the community, you can do it through the Jaycees. If you want to be a little involved, you can find one project and get behind it. If you want to do something every day in your community, the Jaycee organization allows you to do that. We all love the community and the people we serve, and we hope it shows,” Clifton said. “I hope to see our chapter continue strong like it is now, I hope the brotherhood stays strong, and I hope that we continue finding members who want to be involved in the community.”
If the Swainsboro Jaycees sounds like an advance you would like to make, Clifton suggests having a conversation or two with a current Jaycee, filling out a contact submission on the chapter’s website, www.swainsborojaycees.org, or attending a meeting. All of those avenues will be helpful in the event you’d like to pursue membership.