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Crisp County education advocate receives Jefferson Award

September's Jefferson Award recipient is Rosie Watkins.

FOX 31 continues to honor our local heroes with the Jefferson Awards.

The Jefferson Award is the nation's longest standing and most prestigious organization dedicated to celebrating public service.

September's recipient is Rosie Watkins, who has worked over the past couple decades to make Crisp County smarter.

On paper, the most fascinating thing about Watkins might be where she started, as the fourth of 30 siblings.

“There’s 26 up under me," she said. "My mother wanted education, so she sent us to school. And then we worked the fields during the day and went to school.”

That path led her across the Midwest, through the births of her own five children, and eventually down to Crisp County, where she began working with AmeriCorps.

Watkins said she knew right away that she wanted to make a difference in her new community.

“And they said, we don’t do that down here," she recalled. "Well, just because you don’t do it, do it make it not right to do? Can you bring in new ideas to the table?”

Twenty years ago, Watkins founded her own organization, Family Development Task Force. Her goal was to encourage and increase education in Crisp County.

“This is my calling," she said. "As a parent and grandparent, to urge other parents and grandparents to get behind our school district and the kids and help them to succeed.”

But a few years ago, the state changed its math requirements, throwing Watkins a new challenge.

“It’s almost like we had went and dropped a lot of kids to go over the cliff," she said.

That's when she turned to the Beta Club at Crisp County High School. Now 12 of its members tutor both students and their families twice a week throughout the school year.

In just their second year, Watkins already has 70 families signed up.

“We provide all the tools, pencils, papers and everything, so there won’t be any excuse, saying, ‘I can’t do it,'" she said.

That's the thing about Watkins: There are no excuses.

“When the kids are around me, I don’t even let them talk about dropping out or whatever else," she said. "I go and try to make them hang in there, because if I hang in there, you can hang in there too.”

“Honestly, everything she talks about is pure truth, and it’s probably one of the best things about Ms. Rosie herself," said William Redding, a junior at Crisp County High School and one of the program's tutors. "She’s just open and very easy to communicate with.”

“Hearing how she built herself up, it’s really inspiring because that’s what I’m trying to do myself," added Jordan Wilkerson, a fellow junior and tutor.

Watkins is working at this time to extend this program across Georgia.

“I’m training other social entrepreneurs in other counties to do what we’re doing here—bringing parents and families together and letting them know, it’s OK to go to the school, and it’s OK to be a stakeholder," she said.

But even with everything she's done so far, this "young-at-heart" mother, grandmother and great-grandmother still has one dream left.

“I want to be a rapper," she said.

You might think she's kidding, but Watkins has found a way to achieve the unexpected every time before.

“I like to talk about life itself, and the young people, let them know we’ve been there, and we’ve done that, and it’s not that bad. I’m here for you, and you’re here for me," she said. "If you’ve got me, I’ve got you.”

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