SEBRING -Avon Park native Mike Souther has been elected to the Florida board of the Jaycees, an international group with more than 200,000 members and 5,000 local chapters in 100 countries.
Since 1914, when it was founded by Henry Giessenbier, the United States Junior Chamber, or Jaycees, has been a leadership training and civic organization for young people 18 to 40 years of age.
A graphic designer, Souther has owned and operated Souther Signs in Avon Park since 2008.
"I love my work. I don't think of it as a job," said Souther, who started his sign company with a vinyl cutting machine set up in his garage.
"I do mostly commercial signage. People call me, and I come out," he said.
The soft-spoken 35-year-old joined the Avon Park Jaycees in April of last year. His calm demeanor and willingness to work hard quickly earned him the respect of the 45 to 50 members of the local chapter. He was voted in as president in August of 2012.
"Mike is an incredible guy, smart and genuine. I attended the state Jaycees' conference with him last summer. I feel that he has great leadership ability and will be a true asset to the Florida Jaycees," said Rob Bullock, the owner of Bullock Farms and an EMT with Highlands County EMS.
Bullock praised Souther's entrepreneurial spirit, professionalism and ability to tackle obstacles.
"I give Mike a lot of credit, he is not afraid to chase his dreams or help others accomplish theirs," he added.
Selected to serve as the vice president of community development for the state board, Souther credits the success of the Avon Park chapter's fundraising efforts and ongoing community service projects for the recognition he has received on the state and national level.
"Avon Park really has a great Jaycees club; it is twice the size of Tampa's branch. This is a good group of young people, mostly 20 to 27 years of age. They show up for events and volunteer their time," said Souther with pride. "Our main fundraiser is that we man Club Patron at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Patron (Tequila) gives us a trailer that basically transforms into a nightclub."
The monies they raise fund volunteer projects for local non-profit organizations, provide toys and holiday meals for families in need, and pays in full for the annual Avon Park fireworks display.
"We have the best fireworks in the county. The fireworks bring in people from other towns," said Souther, who is deeply commitment to the city where his father, Rod Souther, served as a policeman before his death 26 years ago.
A devoted "family man," Souther said he is grateful to be living in a close-knit, small town where he and his wife, Stephanie, can raise their three children close to both of their families.
Souther said that he enjoyed participating in this year's Avon Park Christmas Parade, where he waved to the crowd from the Jaycees' float.
"For Christmas, (the Jaycees) are going to adopt a couple local families, and we will be giving Big Brothers Big Sisters a bicycle for their raffle," noted Souther.
While Souther doesn't have a lot of time for his favorite hobbies of shooting and touring micro-breweries, he is excited about his new responsibilities with the Jaycees.
This year, he will remain on the local board as well as attend state and national conferences. He will also be a representative from Florida at the 2014 Jaycee United Nations Summit.