Six years ago, seventh-grader Kayla Snyder set a goal to become a Lilly Scholar.
On April 1, the Brown County senior did just that.
That was the day the announcement of this year’s winner was due from the Brown County Community Foundation. Snyder was working at the Abe Martin Lodge and checking her cellphone constantly.
At 4 p.m., she saw her picture pop up on the foundation’s Facebook page.
Was this an April Fool’s Day prank? The thought crossed her mind until she received a call from an excited Jenise Bohbrink, the foundation’s development and program assistant, who confirmed the news.
“I was sobbing at that point,” she said.
Kayla and her parents, Kevin and Marlene, were shocked.
“But then again, Kayla has worked really hard for this,” Marlene said.
“She doesn’t go to parties. There are so many things over the years that she just didn’t do because she had homework or she had obligations in the community. We were really hoping that her hard work would pay off,” she added.
Kevin Snyder wanted his daughter to know that her sacrifices were worth it.
“I was absolutely thrilled to have that message be delivered and shown to her in such a way. It was so important,” he said.
The scholarship will cover Kayla’s full tuition and fees and provide a book stipend for four years at Ball State University.
She plans to study organizational communications and minor in environmental management. She wants to be a spokesperson for groups that promote wildlife and land preservation and resource sustainability.
“I am a really big advocate for land preservation and keeping the environment safe, healthy and happy. We rely so much on it. If the environment isn’t healthy, we, as a result, are not going to be happy,” she said.
Her long-term goal is to speak internationally about these issues to government agencies — something she sees herself doing in about 10 years.
Her love for wildlife and preserving it comes from growing up in Indiana state parks for the majority of her life.
Kevin Snyder is the assistant property manager at Brown County State Park, where the family also lives.
“So many people come to the parks and they leave, but I get to experience that every single day. It’s really fun,” she said.
The family moved to Brown County in the middle of Kayla’s seventh-grade year.
That was the first time she and her family heard of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship.
“Everything that she has done since then has been toward being that person,” Kevin said.
“You need to always have a purpose for doing something,” Kayla said. “If you don’t have a purpose for doing it, you’re not going to put 100 percent into it and you’re not going to appreciate what you’re doing.”
The hard way
Kayla did not take the easy route in high school.She began taking Advanced Placement classes her sophomore year. During her senior year, she switched over to taking dual-credit courses to count toward her high school and college diplomas — something she encourages incoming freshmen to do.
“Sometimes it’s really difficult to buckle down. You just want to go out with your friends every weekend and you want to do X, Y or Z, but if you just take time now to work hard, it pays off completely and you’ll have fun along the way,” she said.
It was difficult at times.
“There were nights where I was getting like two or three hours of sleep every night just to make sure I was getting my homework done on top of being able to do the things I enjoy, because we only get to live high school once,” she said.
Kayla is a member of the Spanish Honor Society, National Honor Society, Spanish club, prom committee, student council and the social studies academic team — to name a few.
She is a 10-year 4-H member, is involved with 4-H Junior Leaders, is a member of Friends of Brown County State Park and volunteers at Mother’s Cupboard.
Her sense of helping others comes from her family.
“When she was younger, we lived in Madison. Even when we were there, she was working for the food pantries, and we would do it as a family. There wasn’t a goal there in mind at the time other than helping people,” Marlene said.
Right away as a freshman, Kayla began joining clubs and participating in sports. She played varsity soccer and was on the varsity dance team all four years.
“That helped me establish upperclassman friends who were able to take me under their wing and really give me lots of advice that I feel like I would not have been able to obtain otherwise,” she said.
Kayla credits the Brown County community for helping her achieve her goal.
“They are always willing to help you and present opportunities to you regardless of if they’ve known you for 10 years or if they’ve known you for a week,” she said.
But her parents are her biggest support system and best friends. They made sure Kayla was able to take every opportunity available regardless of cost.
“When I got involved with various things, I never wanted to slack off or do anything that would make it seem like I was unappreciative,” she said.
Kayla is going to miss her support system when she moves two hours away to Muncie next fall, but she knows they will not be strangers.
“I’ll know they’ll be up there every other weekend, so it’s OK,” she said.