Columbus High athlete Ann Johnson helping to solve a need in the community

Three-sport athlete works with Backpack Buddies

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comApril 17, 2014 

Columbus High lacrosse coach Joe McDaniel describes Ann Johnson, his senior midfielder, as aggressive.

She's not afraid to take the ball, he said, and run into a group of people, a situation many others want to avoid.

"Not everybody can do that," McDaniel said. "Only certain people are fearless enough."

It's no surprise that Johnson is one of those people. Like in lacrosse, she has a proven record of charging into the middle of the fray in daily life, as well.

From academics to sports (she has played three at Columbus), clubs to student council, Johnson is involved in it all.

A project of particular interest to Johnson, who was on All-Bi-City swimming teams as a sophomore and junior, is the Backpack Buddies, an organization she helped kick off at the beginning of the school year in association with the Columbus High Beta Club and Columbus Optimist Club.

The program is designed to help students at Hannan Elementary, the majority of whom are on free or reduced lunch.

"They get the lunch at the school, but over the weekend they don't have anything to eat," Johnson described. "The principal there told us that when they come in on Monday, all they want to do is get to lunch in the cafeteria."

So, Beta Club sponsors Jane Parker and Wendy Highnote approached the students with an idea, one a few other schools in the area have tried to take part in as well: Pack bags of food and deliver to the students every Friday morning.

Johnson and a group of other students took up the mantle and the Friday trips have been a regular occurrence for most of the school year.

"It's something people don't realize we have such a strong need for in Columbus," said Johnson, who will attend Georgia Tech in the fall with the help of the Stamps Servant Leadership Scholarship. "Hannan Elementary is only five to eight minutes from here. It's so close and so many people don't know about it.

"Those kids need to be fo

cusing on learning how to read and how to do math, not worrying about when they're going to get their next meal."

It wasn't just about being a part of something Johnson could put on her resume. She and others realized there was a need and were motivated to make a difference.

At first, according to Highnote, the plan was to provide 20 bags each week. That was what they could afford on limited funds from the beginning. They were asked, however, to do 50.

Johnson and a couple partners took up the charge.

They spoke at a mortgage bankers' breakfast, at the optimist club and different churches, among other places. At each appearance, they would pitch the attendees, pass out a brochure and present a power point.

"We found that when people hear about what we're doing, they love to donate money," Johnson said. "What's better than trying to feed kids who don't have everything they need? It's such a broad problem that everyone can sympathize with."

Now, the original plan for 20 bags has expanded to 60 per week. They hope the number will rise in the future, even after Johnson has graduated.

The best part of helping, Johnson said, was delivering the food and being able to see the children's faces. It's more than a meal, it's a relationship.

"They can see us as mentors, and maybe in the future they'll want to help out, too," she said.

Asked about Johnson, Highnote struggled to describe how impressed she was with her student.

"I don't even know where to start because she does everything," she said. "I don't know where she finds the time. I don't think she sleeps."

And yet, not everyone knows about her activities. This week, when he was contacted to discuss Johnson's involvement with the Backpack Buddies, was the first McDaniel had heard about it.

"They're not going around saying, 'Look at me. Look what I'm doing,'" McDaniel said.

He added how impressed he was with her commitment to lacrosse, as well.

"We're struggling this year," he said. "It would have been easy for her to say, you know, I don't have time. But she didn't. It reminds me, we think our sport is the most important thing and they have to be there and all this. It's really not. These are the things that are important."

So important that Johnson sees a similar path for her future.

She plans to major in biomedical engineering and pre-med at Tech with hopes of becoming a doctor in the future. She pointed to an organization called Partners in Health as a future career goal. Not surprisingly, it is a global health organization that helps develop new ways to attack specific needs for places abroad.

"I feel the most successful when I'm accomplishing something," Johnson said, "especially when I'm helping other people. I'm not just doing something to help myself.

"I can see a wider impact that will hopefully be there after I move on. That's the greatest purpose you can have in life."

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