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Distinguished Service

Mendenhall honored for continued work locally, internationally

Posted: January 6, 2011 2:55 p.m.
Updated: January 7, 2011 5:00 a.m.

As a child, Juanita Mendenhall said she wanted to be a missionary.

Then in junior high school she discovered a different passion.

“More than 50 years ago my junior high school home economics teacher inspired me to become a teacher like her. Little did I know it would be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!” she said.

Mendenhall has been a family and consumer science teacher on both collegiate and high school levels as well as to the general community. She’s also been involved as a member of the American Association of Family and Consumer Science (AAFCS) for the past 42 years.

Because of that service – as well as participation in countless other projects – Mendenhall was awarded with the highest honor the AAFCS can give, the Distinguished Service Award.

The Distinguished Service Award was established in 1979 to recognize superior achievements in family and consumer sciences, outstanding contributions to the family and consumer science profession and sustained association leadership at both state and national levels.

“Juanita has had an impressive career as a teacher in the United States and even in other countries such as St. Lucia in the Caribbean,” wrote Janett Gibbs in a letter of recommendation for Mendenhall. “After two career retirements I have to say, JUANITA AIN’T DONE YET! She realizes there is much work to be done in the world to make it a better place and she is ready to tackle whatever task God gives her.”

Mendenhall said she was honored to receive the award, but couldn’t take all the credit for the work.

“I gave a thank you celebration for all those people that worked with me,” she said. “Without them, there’s certainly no way I would have ever gotten any sort of award.”

Mendenhall has been recognized before with more than 25 awards for her service, including the AAFCS Leaders Award and Wiley-Berger Award for Volunteer Service.

Mendenhall has been active in both the Indiana and South Carolina Associations of Family and Consumer Sciences (AFCS) as well as participated as a long-time member of both the International Federation for Home Economics and International Home Economics Services. She was nominated for the Distinguished Service Award by SCAFC.

“In the years she has been in South Carolina, she has proven to be a jewel for the South Carolina Association of Family and Consumer Sciences,” wrote SCAFCS President Dorothy C. Blanton. “She shows such commitment to our profession. She inspires. She is enthusiastic. She is knowledgeable. She is dedicated. South Carolina is lucky to have her.”

Mendenhall said she was happy to be a part of so many organizations that connected her with others who have the same goals.

She is currently chairing a partnership for home economic disaster assistance to developing countries.

The main mission, Mendenhall said, is to improve the quality of life for communities and families worldwide.

“It is a broad mission,” she said. “But we have a bunch of projects worldwide.”

Mendenhall explained that when she was younger, she envisioned herself as a missionary.

“This is really as close as I got,” she said. “While yes, churches can do a lot, there are many things we can do to help people all over the world that churches may not be able to.”

Many countries have rules that don’t allow religious groups to help them, she said. However through the disaster assistance program, volunteers are able to work with the people directly to set up programs such as schools, medical care and other services without interfering with the country’s culture.

“We don’t go in there and tell them what to do. We ask them what they need,” Mendenhall said. “Then we do our best to supply them with those resources.”

Overall, Mendenhall has traveled to 67 countries through home economic association projects.

“Most people have never heard of us, but there are so many international opportunities,” she said. “We have thousands of members from over 60 countries – it’s no small group”

Mendenhall moved to Kershaw County from Indiana 15 years ago. Shortly after, she took on the Kershaw County Teen Health Promotion Coalition (KCTHPC) as executive director -- a post she didn’t leave until 2008.

In addition to serving as director for KCTHPC, she also served as a 14-county coordinator for the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

“The thing that touched my heart most (about receiving the award) was the incredible remembrances and expressions from friends all over the world,”  she said. “Even now when I look through the letters, see the award, I just can’t believe it.”

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