As September approached, principals from the six schools in Union County’s Forest Hills cluster had to make a decision: Which student should be the first recipient of the John H. Crowder Service Award?
The requirements were academic success and a history of community service – a fitting tribute to the memory of John Crowder, who died in March.
Crowder had been the longest-serving member of the Union County Board of Education and “dedicated 31 years to the service of the public schools,” according to the UCPS website.
Dr. Kevin Plue, principal at Forest Hills High School, said one name quickly came up when he met with the other administrators: Jesse “J.B.” Helms, a 17-year-old senior at Forest Hills High School.
“J.B. Helms was an obvious, almost unanimous, choice among us in the Forest Hills cluster,” Plue said. He said Helms has led several community service projects and likely will be one of the top five students graduating from Forest Hills in June.
Helms’ parents are Kevin Helms, who teaches history at Forest Hills High and helps coach football, and Donna Helms, media coordinator at Piedmont High School.
J.B. Helms – no relation to late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms – was presented the award by Minnie Crowder, John Crowder’s widow, at the Sept. 2 board of education meeting.
Helms is a member of Forest Hills’ student council, the National Honor Society, Beta Club and Interact Club. He is president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and captain of the football and wrestling teams.
Helms also is the district high school student liaison between the Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry and Union County’s schools, Plue said.
“In their CrisisRun this spring, he not only led our effort but also worked to generate more interest and participation” Plue said.
“My job was to contact all the schools and get kids to run this race,” Helms said.
He’s also volunteered in the equine therapy program at Mephibosheth Farms in Marshville, where he built a strong connection with the children he worked with.
Though he’s been focused on community service in the past, his goal for the future is to serve his country. Helms hopes to get an appointment to the Naval Academy or to West Point, he said.
The idea that he’d be a good fit for the Naval Academy first came to him from Forest Hill’s football coach, John Lowery, Helms said.
“When I was a freshman, he sat me down and said, ‘My son went to the Naval Academy and he loved it. And every quality he has possessed I see in you,’ ” Helms said.
Helms researched the Naval Academy and attended the its summer seminar program this year. That weeklong experience – getting up at 5:30 a.m. and having workshops, training and special events through the day and into the night – cemented his wish to go there.
“The camaraderie there is incomparable to any other college or anything that I’ve visited,” he said.
Helms said he was pleased to be selected for the first-ever John H. Crowder Service Award.
“I feel like I would like to set a precedent for future winners,” he said. “I want them to have something to measure themselves up against.
“And I also want to tell the people doing community service and involved in their schools, don’t do it just for the award. Community service is personal. It’s about establishing relationships.”
It can be a little awkward to ask someone with the last name “Helms” in Union County if he’s related to the late Sen. Helms, who was from Monroe. The surname is relatively common here.
Jesse “J.B.” Helms didn’t seem to mind the question at all.
“I wish I was,” he said. “That would certainly be cool.”