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Teen uses adversity as fuel for giving back to those in need
jenna goodson
Jenna Goodson - photo by by Scott Bryant/photographer

“I try to volunteer at pretty much anything I can.”

Those are the words of 17-year-old Jenna Goodson, a senior at Portal Middle High School. Originally from Statesboro, Goodson has called Portal home for four years. She’s the middle child of five, with two brothers older and two younger.

Goodson plans to go to college to be a nurse practitioner, with a minor in Spanish. She hasn’t fully committed to a college choice yet, but she says she is leaning toward Mercer University. She is president of the BETA Club at her school, vice president for Future Business Leaders of America, and a part of the National Art Honor Society.

But the thing that really makes her happy is giving back. She loves volunteering. Like, really, truly loves it. 

“I try to volunteer as much as possible. My goal is usually about once a month, and that’s not as much as I would usually like, but I just hit senior year, which is as busy as you could imagine,” she says. 

Goodson helps with multiple types of food drives in Portal and Bulloch County, and helps with collecting canned goods for TMT Farms during the holidays. She helps with coat and toy drives around the holidays as well to help less fortunate families in Portal. 

Goodson also helps with different fundraisers around the county, and says her favorite volunteer opportunity is Bingo night for the Humane Society of Statesboro and Bulloch County. She also loves to volunteer any time she can when art is involved, and helps each year with ArtsFest. She also volunteered her time and talent to help create the mural in Portal. 

“Fun,” is how Goodson describes the volunteer activities she does, and she says there is always something going on that she can be involved in.

“As someone who comes from a low income family, especially with a single mom with five children, I always felt pretty helpless, like I couldn’t contribute to help my family when I was younger,” she said. “As long as I can remember, I always promised myself as soon as I’m older, as soon as I’m in a position where I can I’m going to help anyone and everything as much as possible.”

Goodson calls helping others and spreading sunshine one of the “vital pillars of her character.”

“Volunteering, it’s so special to me. It really shows you how much you can contribute to everyone, even if you don’t have too much, you can still always impact someone,” she said. 

She especially enjoys handing out toys to children at Christmas, and seeing the smiles it puts on the children’s faces.

“It really does something for you,” she said.

Goodson has taken art for three years in high school, and says it’s important for her to share her passion for creativity in the community as well. She enjoys painting, particularly watercolors. She also helps younger students at school with their art projects.

She recently lent her talent to her school by designing the Christmas card that PMHS sent out to the other schools in Bulloch County. 

“That was a big honor for me,” she said.

Goodson loves to draw people, animals and landscapes. “I kind of do it all,” she says, laughing. 

Working toward a career in nursing is something that Goodson says she has always just known she wanted to do — and that helping children is her passion. 

“Every single day I wake up and I know that’s what I want to do. I know that I want to help kids,” she said, adding that looking after her two younger brothers has helped kindle that fire. 

She also had a seventh grade biology teacher who was formerly a nurse. Goodson says that teacher, Melissa Palmer of Montgomery County, taught her about the importance of nursing and the difference one person can make in the lives of his or her patients.

Goodson is planning to minor in Spanish, which she has taken for three years in high school. She has studied under Shannon Hattaway, who she says has pushed her to understand that she can and should impact people beyond the borders of the United States. 

“I really want to connect with as many people as I can,” she said. 

As for her heroes, Goodson starts with Clinton Thornburg, who taught her science for three years. 

“He’s just been, honestly, so wonderful. He’s pushed me so hard to go further with nursing. He’s a big part of the reason I decided to go into nurse practitioner and get a graduate degree. He’s so wonderful. He makes sure everyone understands what we’re doing and he really reaches out to the students in there,” she said.

Goodson’s high school counselor, Joe Bettinger, is also credited with being a mentor for her. She says he helped her with everything when it came to making decisions about college, as well as finding ways to engage in the school community at PMHS. 

“I truly owe all thanks to him in helping me get into some of my dream colleges,” she said. 

Goodson also mentioned her middle school English teacher from when she lived in Montgomery County, Tonya Bowen. 

“She was absolutely wonderful. She really helped me fall in love with literature, and I was really inspired to write because of her. She’s such a wonderful person,” Goodson said. 

Bowen’s influence on Goodson reached beyond the classroom, and is something she still feels today. 

“She helped me deal with my migraines, as she has them as well. She was also a positive influence when I was dealing with anxiety and depression,” Goodson said. 

Goodson says her home life, with four brothers, and her mom, Lisa Curl, is never dull. Her oldest brother, Joseph Goodson, is seven years older than her, and she says he’s been an inspiration to her. They’re super close, and since he’s in biology, he’s been a huge help to her on her pathway to nursing. 

“He’s so wonderful,” she said. 

Goodson also has a brother that is one year older than her, Jason Goodson. The duo was “troublesome,” when they were younger, she said with a laugh. Her two youngest brothers, Jameson and Joshua Graham, are “such good kids,” she says, and “they’re lovely.”

But her home life has had some adversity. Goodson’s father is an absent alcoholic, and she hasn’t seen him since she was 10. Prior to that, he was “on and off” in her life, and she says that as a child, it was confusing and frustrating. And then he just “disappeared without explanation.” Her mom has remarried a couple of times, and Goodson said it was difficult getting attached to a new stepdad and then losing him, too. But Goodson has turned even these life events into things that have made her stronger and more determined.

“One of the things I’ve had to learn is being independent, learning how to function with people in and out mostly. I’m stronger than I used to be and I am able to deal with a lot more than most people,” she said. 

On the other side of the hard times her family has faced, Goodson says she has become really driven to be the best person she can.

“This is why I want to spread as much happiness as I can, even though there’s not much happiness coming in. As long as I’m the one projecting it, it’s always going to be there,” she said. 

Goodson says this has been really important for her to learn; that happiness is something she can make herself. 

“It doesn’t have to be given,” she adds.

Passing on that happiness for Goodson, is important, and she says it is crucial in any community. 

“There are always going to be people who are struggling, and people who need assistance, and they’re just not getting it. There’s always going to be some child or some adult that needs it, and it’s so incredibly important for everyone to help each other, and everyone join together as much as possible. If it’s in your cards to be able to help, I definitely think you should be helping. It’s so incredibly important.”