ANDERSON — When a letter arrived in the mail recently congratulating Zac'Aree Owens on being nominated to attend the National Young Leaders State Conference in Washington, D.C. in June, his mom didn't know what to think.
Yolanda Wilkins had never heard about the program, which is part of Envision, a series of programs which encourages students to explore their interests and gain learning experiences beyond the classroom, according to an organization news release.
Students can be nominated to participate in the program by teachers, counselors or coaches.
Although Wilkins said she spoke will all her son's teachers, none of them submitted a nomination. The letter from Envision simply said they had became aware of Owens through an organization called the National Research Center for College and university Admissions.
"In addition to meeting the significant academic requirements that are our first consideration in choosing students, we believe Zac'Aree has the strength of character and leadership ability that will help provide an unparallelled opportunity at the conference," the letter stated.
After doing some research and talking with the parents of a former Anderson High School student who took part in a similar program several years ago, Wilkins said she decided to allow her son to attend.
The four day program is designed to develop leadership skill in young people, according to a program guide.
"He chose the leadership conference because he wants to become a leader in the community," Wilkins added. "I think that it is really a high honer to get invited to this, especially a black male."
It's an honor for another reason, as well, she said.
Owens, 15, was born with a rare condition that left his skull under-developed. Doctors at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis installed a plate in his head. Over the years, he's undergone numerous surgeries to adjust the plate.