JOPLIN, MO – Incoming college freshmen are being honored for their acts of community service.

The grand prize — a $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Jillian Kennedy, a Carl Junction High School graduate who plans to play volleyball and study kinesiology at Missouri Southern State University this fall.

“I’ve had a lot of good people in my life that are instilling in me what it means to be a good person and what it means to give back to other people,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s really important to give back to people just because I’ve had a lot of people pour into me and I think it is important to pour back into other people.”

And Kennedy is the kind of person employers are looking for too.

H.E. Williams has been one of the sponsors of the Golden Lion Award for two years.

Marketing manager Michelle Peak says seeing someone with a background in community service is a sign of good things to come.

“People who do community service really take pride in their towns and the people that live there,” said Peak. “That usually shines through in the work they do for their company as well.”

But before they embark on their career, they get this unique honor.

Jillian gets the $5,000 scholarship to MSSU, while the other seven nominees get a $1,000 scholarship if they end up going to MSSU.

“While many scholarships are given to students who are great academically or athletically or in the arts, this one rewards community service,” said Kevin Greim, associate vice president for development at MSSU. “Which is pretty unique, I think.”

“All of the applicants are really impressive every year,” Peak said. “We see some that have 200 hours of community service in a year.”

“It’s the number of things that they’re involved in that is staggering to me,” Greim said.

For Kennedy, the next step on her journey is MSSU, a place she likes because it’s close to home, the community she has given so much to.

“To me, the importance of community service means giving back to other people that haven’t been blessed with the same opportunities that everyone else has,” Kennedy said.