Heading to the top
WORTHINGTON -- Cheniqua Johnson is a girl of many hats and interests.
Johnson is an aspiring lawyer or social justice worker, has a keen interest in caring for others and currently works part-time at Hy-Vee's Italian Express.
Recently, she made Worthington proud when she represented the city and state in the Family, Careers, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) National Leadership Conference in Anaheim, Calif.
FCCLA is a national organization that addresses family and consumer science issues. As part of an after-school program, Bonnie Bents, adviser for Worthington High School FCCLA, said the organization pursues various community service activities.
On July 8, Johnson, accompanied by Bents, made her maiden trip to the West Coast to compete in the job interview category of the conference, during which she won the gold medal.
"I picked nurse assistant particularly because my mother is a certified nurse assistant, and I know firsthand, what it's like to care for someone," said Johnson, whose father suffers from Alzheimer's disease and brother has multiple disabilities.
Her portfolio, neatly compiled in a white binder, consists of a planning process, job description, cover letter and resumé.
"FCCLA has a planning process and all the activities that you do are supposed to be used in the planning process to organize your thoughts," Bents explained.
Apart from the planning process, Johnson wrote most of the material in her portfolio based on her experiences of assisting her mother at work and caring for her father and brother.
"It's written the way I would say it," Johnson said.
One of the key job requirements is being able to adapt to change.
"A lot of experiences throughout my life have prepared me to be able to deal with change," Johnson added.
To a panel of judges, Johnson elaborated about her life and work experience.
"From (working at) the grocery store at Fareway to working with food now in Hy-Vee, it's a dramatic change," she added with a laugh.
At the age of 8, Johnson began to help with caring for her father during the beginning stages of his Alzheimer's, as well as for her brother, while her mother was at work.
"Instead of caring for yourself, you're caring for others," she said recalled learning about chores, cooking and changing diapers. "It taught me different maturity levels about myself."
It was "nerve wrecking" at first to speak in front of the judges because of the multiple presentations occurring concurrently.
"When their eyes wandered, (I thought) are they bored of my presentation?" she said.
The naturally-talented public speaker eventually found herself at ease.
"I just thought my student with the golden tongue is going to do the job interview and it doesn't matter what her book (portfolio) is going to look like," Bents said about Johnson's ability. "I knew that with her golden tongue she was going to do her best."
The process of getting to California was not a breeze for the incoming junior at Worthington High School.
After her participation in the state-level contest, she had about two months to raise funds for her trip
"I was faced with this big obstacle -- to either pass it up and maybe not get the opportunity again, or go and try really hard to raise the money," Johnson explained. "The community of Worthington was very helpful."
Johnson and Bents especially noted the efforts of the local Optimist and Kiwanis clubs and Rita and Phil from Smith Trucking in making Johnson's trip a reality.
Another instrumental figure in their mission was WHS Principal Paul Karelis.
"I think it's reassuring for our whole student body to have a principal who actually cares," Johnson said about the confidence and encouragement she received from the school's administrator.
Apart from FCCLA, Johnson strives on academic excellence and is active in band, choir and Business Professionals of America (BPA). Her current grade point average is 3.8.
Johnson is the second student from WHS to receive a gold medal at the FCCLA National Leadership Conference.