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COLUMBUS, MISS. (WCBI)-The Columbus Exchange Club is an organization that recognizes the young leaders of our nation through academics and ambitious career goals. For some it has taken more than good grades to be recognized for with honors.

These students are some of the best and brightest in Columbus. They’ve excelled in the classroom, many of them overcoming difficult odds.

It’s been a long road for Victory Christian Academy senior Jason Heaton. By the time he was just two years old, he’d suffered two strokes and undergone major heart surgery.

“When I was born I had cerebral palsy it’s affected the right side of my whole body. Because of this, I’m not able to drive or able to use my right hand,” says Jason Heaton.

Jason has been an inspiration to many people, including his school counselor. She shared his story with the Columbus Exchange Club. Last week, the club presented Jason with Accepting the challenge of Excellence Award last week at its Annual Youth of the Year Luncheon.

“It’s a big surprise honestly. I wasn’t expecting it. I couldn’t do this without God. God is a major part in this factor , my family and my friends,” says Heaton.

Emma Thomspon, a Senior at Mississippi School of Math and Science, was honored as Youth of the Year.

“It was a surprise, when I got to the luncheon and was invited to the luncheon there were so many competent people that I heard about their stories so I really just felt honored,” says Emma Thompson.

When she was a student at Columbus Middle School, Thompson developed a literacy program called “Women Influencing Lives Through Literature” after seeing her fellow classmates struggling in the subject.

“The idea behind the program is to keep young women 8th grade girls focussed on their academic priorities and setting goals that will help them to succeed and using literature in a non-threatening environment,” says Thompson.

Even after graduation, Thompson hopes to expand her program when she goes to college.

“Since I am going to North Carolina State University, I’m hoping to expand the program in Raleigh while continuing people that I heard about their stories so I really just felt honored,” says Thompson.

No matter what obstacles you are facing, Heaton says to keep pressing towards the future.

“Keep praying if there are any questions and keep having faith,” says Heaton.

“Stick with it because I know from personal experience that I had the seed of the idea in 9th grade, but it wasn’t until 12th grade that I was ultimately able to implement it,” says Thompson.

Some of the students are eligiable for scholarship for college through these awards.

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