Students may now register for Extended Leadership Academy (ELA) at every high school in Cherokee County and several high schools in Etowah County.  ELA began in 2018 and is designed for older students who have a family member who is incarcerated and has since been expanded to include students who are experiencing any type of family disruption and have been identified by school counselors as “at-risk.” 

Students who participate in ELA gain both immediate and long-term benefits from the program.  Each ELA program is as diverse as the students who participate in it.  This 18-week curriculum begins with a survey of the students to help them identify the qualities of their dream job and explore what occupations appeal to them and why.  This information is then used to bring in speakers from their own community who are excelling in the students’ areas of interests – past speakers have included medical personnel, judges, law enforcement officials, counselors, business owners, elected representatives, and many others.  Extended Family tries to match each student’s interests with an appropriate speaker who then presents to the group. Not only are ELA Kids given specific steps to help them reach their career goals, but they also meet successful community leaders who want to help Our Kids achieve their dreams and get to where they want to go.

In addition to the guest presenters, Extended Family Program Leaders also cover several topics during each series, including job readiness and interviewing skills, maintaining healthy lives physically, mentally, and in their relationships, and communication skills, including using social media appropriately and the power of a thank you note.  These skills go a long way in helping Our Kids to be successful.

ELA Kids who are seniors in high school receive a shopping spree each spring at the end of the program to get business attire to wear to job or college interviews, or to use for their jobs after graduation.  This shopping trip is always popular with Our Kids and a fun day for the students and Extended Family staff and volunteers.  In addition to the shopping spree, seniors in ELA also learn how to apply for scholarships and have the opportunity to gain real experience by applying for an ELA scholarship, which Extended Family awarded for the first time in 2023.  The ELA scholarship helps with tuition, books, or supplies at any college, university, or technical program that the student chooses.

ELA is for kids who want to succeed but need a few extra tools to get there.  For some students, ELA is a better option than other clubs or sports, since we bring the program to them at school and there is never a cost to the students to participate.  And the long-lasting benefit from ELA is that Our Kids are taught the motto, “Lead Yourself,” which means that, regardless of their background or current situation, each of the students has the ability from within themselves to dream and pursue those dreams and happiness in their lives.  ELA offers these teens the support they need to plan for that success and achieve their goals.

For more information about ELA or other Extended Family programs, please visit our website,

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