Kendall Stiles honored with the Giving Tree award
Y ou may have read the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein as a child. It follows the life of a tree and a boy. As the boy grows, he takes more and more from the tree, yet the tree continues to willingly give.
The book has a much deeper meaning than just helping young children learn to read. It highlights the lasting impact those willing to “give” can have on others.
This book inspired an award at Georgia College by the same name. Since 1996, it’s been given by the GIVE Center to a person who has left a lasting legacy of service at the university. A tree is also planted in their honor. This year, the honoree’s impact on Georgia College and the Milledgeville community can hardly be quantified.
“To me, the Giving Tree Award is one of the best awards we do,” said Kendall Stiles. “It’s a neat thing to have one now in honor of me.”
Stiles founded the GIVE Center, which serves to connect students with service opportunities on campus and in the community, in 1997. She’s worked with thousands of students over the years and left a mark in each person’s heart. This year she was recognized with the Giving Tree award.
“Her support and encouragement have meant so much to me—as it has to so many of us through the years. Yet, Kendall’s story of mentorship and friendship is not unique to me. It's just how Kendall is,” Dr. Jennifer Graham, director of the Women’s Center and interim chief diversity officer, said at the ceremony.
“So many of us who worked with Kendall through the GIVE Center have been blessed by this mentorship and friendship, and it didn't stop when we graduated, as evidenced by the fact that there are so many of us here today,” Graham added About 20 alumni came back to Georgia College to honor Stiles. Each echoed Graham’s sentiment about the impact Stiles had on their lives. “I never saw myself as a leader,” said Sabrina Bryant, ’19, “But she's been, frankly, like a mother to me while I was here— she's like family.”
“Kendall really showed me how to give back to the people who pour into you,” said Bianca Diaz, ’17. “She also taught me how much a small impact can make and how that can motivate others around you to continue to make that impact.”
“Really no other person thought that we could bring something like Campus Kitchen to Georgia College’s campus. Kendall was the first person who thought we could,” said Cameron Skinner, ’18. “Even after that, as I stayed on as full-time staff after graduating, Kendall became one of my best friends, and she's always just been very supportive of any student endeavor ever possible.”
Staff, faculty and community members also attended celebrating Stiles’ impact throughout Milledgeville and beyond. “It was good to see everybody and to see how things are going,” Stiles said. “You know, having the alumni here, that was wonderful. That was so touching.”
During the ceremony, Kristy Johnson, director of Student Activities & Organizations, read the book “The Giving Tree.” Emily Jarvis, executive director of Student Engagement and director of Parent and Family Programs, gave a history of the award and spoke about the legacy Stiles has left after her recent retirement.
“Students who may never have the privilege of meeting Kendall will continue to benefit from her vision, her passion and her incredible spirit,” Jarvis said. “She has made an indelible impact on Georgia College. She has shepherded 1000s of students through their journeys of service and servant leadership. She established the culture of giving back that distinguishes the Georgia College experience.”
The tree planted was a Ginkgo, which was the same species as the one planted for the first Giving Tree ceremony in 1996. As the tree grows, so will the culture of giving at Georgia College—thanks to the strong foundation Stiles set in place.
“I can't wait to see her legacy continue to grow on campus and how Georgia College will continue to provide opportunities for students that are into service,” Skinner said. “Hopefully, they continue to maximize the GIVE Center’s potential.”
Graham—who was also a Giving Tree award recipient as a student—said Stiles did more than just support students in their ideas. She offered space, organizational and project management skills and ways to hone their passions to help make the community better.
“We celebrate Kendall and all of the ways that she has contributed to this institution, to the greater Milledgeville community, to the GIVE Center and most importantly, to all of us,” Graham said. “I can't think of a better way to recognize her legacy than through the Giving Tree Award."