A Dawson County student whose family has been besieged by tragedies recently set a remarkable new high school record.
Katelyn Hardegree, 18, a senior at Dawson County High School logged 2,447 volunteer hours during her tenure at the school and the year has just begun.
The next closest student logged 574.
Shes a hard worker and very dedicated to her service, DCHS Counselor Cherie Ferguson said.
Hardegrees service recently landed her on the front page of an Atlanta newspaper.
During a 9/11 memorial service, Hardegree and others raced up the equivalent of 110 stories of the World Trade Center for the Fire Rescue International 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb held at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta.
The stair climb honors the 343 New York City firefighters who selflessly gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001 so that others may live.
Hardegree was personally congratulated by retired New York Battalion Chief, Bob Keys.
Closer to home, Hardegree participates in the Dawson County EMS Explorer program, managers her schools soccer and basketball teams, has been a third rider in an EMS Life Flight helicopter, ambulance, and fire truck.
Shes has shown a great interest in public safety, EMS Director Billy Thurmond said.
With support from her mom, Donnia Hardegree, Katelyn plans to be a flight nurse.
Ive always told my kids, you need to make your own path and make it positive and make it good, and help somebody, she said. Do the best you can do, and whatever you cant do, God can.
As she spoke about her daughter and sons, Hardegrees emotions bubbled up.
She and her brothers have been through so much, Hardegree explained, her voice shaking. Weve been through divorce, several suicides. Our house was hit by lightning. We went through bankruptcy. We lost our home. We have literally lost everything. And while some of this was going on, Katelyn was being bullied at school.
Those were the dark days.
Today, Katelyn has reached the rank of lieutenant with the EMS Explorer program and aspires to be a captain.
If shes able to do that, shell be the first female captain in the Dawson County Explorer program and the highest ranking officer, said EMS Lt. Jeff Banks. Shes an energetic leader, and she doesnt back down from any challenge. Were really proud of her.
Kristin Hudson, who serves as an advisor for the explorer program, said Katelyn has unique qualities.
Shes got the heart for this, Hudson said, who also served 8.5 years as an EMS dispatcher. She extremely bright, dedicated, and you can always count on her.
When asked by a reporter how she made it through the hard times and the bullying, Hardegree talked about her mom.
My mom pounded it into my head that you dont want to be like everybody else, she said.
Early on, Hardegree set out or prove certain people wrong.
People made fun of me and said really hurtful things and made me feel like I was lower than them, she said, sounding much older than her years. Sometimes the ground crumbles beneath you and you try to rebuild, but then the rain comes and washes everything away.
You have to rebuild on something sturdy like cement so you wont crumble again. My cement is my mom.
Katelyn also has a talent for cultivating a vast support group.
As a reporter walked away from a photo shoot at fire station no. 1, Katelyns voice could still be heard.
Bye Miss Kristi, I love you.
I love you too!