JEFFERSONVILLE -- Denisha Lassiter lives near the geographic center of Georgia.
The marker is located at the Old Marion Baptist Church on Bullard Road, where her family often worships.
Although she has grown up smack dab in the middle of the state, until this summer Denisha had never ventured far from its boundaries.
When she was a baby, her parents took her to visit relatives in Cleveland, Ohio. But her travels have since been limited to the highways and backroads of her home state.
Dublin. Rome. Athens. Vienna. Those have always been places in Georgia, not faraway cities in Europe.
Denisha, 16, knew there was a wider world. She had read stories in books. She had studied history and geography in her classes.
That’s why she was excited last year when she received a letter from the “People To People” Student Ambassador Program.
She was notified that she was among the students nominated from Twiggs County High School. It was an opportunity to travel abroad and visit seven countries.
Denisha posted comments on Facebook and Instagram to share the news with her friends. She attended an informational meeting at Middle Georgia State College with her mother, Deyda, to learn about the student ambassador program, which has been in existence since 1956.
Then came the sticker shock.
It would cost about $7,000 for Denisha to make the trip.
Deyda almost fell out of her chair.
“Lord, where am I going to get the money?” she asked.
Deyda is a native of Panama. She works as a housekeeper and caregiver in Macon. Her husband, Vintentre, is a custodian at Twiggs County High School. They have two younger children -- Denetra, 14, and 12-year-old Vintentre Jr.
It was one thing to pinch pennies, quite another to have to choke the life out of those Abe Lincolns.
Still, Deyda was determined.
“I am always willing to sacrifice for my children, no matter what,” she said. “So every time I got paid, I took money to pay the bills and then set aside some to put in her account.”
She picked up additional housekeeping jobs, sometimes working seven days a week. Denisha did her part, selling lollipops as a fundraiser and holding bake sales. She earned money by baby-sitting and pet-sitting.
The Lassister family tightened its collective belt. They stopped going to the movies and issued a moratorium on eating out at restaurants.
They cut back on their number of cellphones from five to two. Even the family dogs had to give up extra helpings at the supper table. Skinnier dogs mean fatter piggy banks.
The financial discipline worked its magic. Denisha was able to make the trip. It was the first time she had been on an airplane. Her group of student ambassadors toured England, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands.
She left the U.S. on June 15 and returned on July 12. When she got back, she was craving collard greens and macaroni and cheese, so those were the first dishes on the menu at home.
The experience helped broaden her horizons, not that she has ever been standing still in her little corner of the world. At Twiggs, she is an honor student. She has been involved with everything from running track to cheerleading to Junior ROTC and the Future Business Leaders of America.
Deyda worked to help some of the other students from Twiggs raise the necessary funds. In the end, her daughter was the only one who could make the trip. Denisha is grateful for the support from those in the community who made contributions. And, of course, she’s grateful to her family for their role in making it happen.
Sometimes it’s the journey -- not the getting there -- we learn to appreciate most.
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