The little town of South Bay, a teardrop at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee, is home to only about 5,000 residents.
“And I’m related to about three-quarters of them,” laughs Erin McKay, an honor student, cheerleader and valedictorian for Glades Central High School in nearby Belle Glade.
McKay, 18, is also this: a hometown girl who reveres her community for helping her grow into the ambitious, over-achieving young woman she has become.
Growing up in a small town meant her neighbors and family members were always looking out for her, supporting her and cheering her success.
“I would not say I did this alone. My community is part of why I was so dedicated to academics,” said McKay.
Growing up on the rim of Lake Okeechobee means kids like McKay are isolated from the activities coastal residents take for granted. The closest shopping mall or movie theaters are in Wellington.
Football is king, in an area known for intense football rivalries, whose athletic programs have sent numerous players on to college fame and NFL careers.
While she’s a big football fan herself, McKay wants her school to be known for more than sports.
“We all support football out here, but people don’t recognize our academic side,” she said.
A stand-out in her high school’s medical sciences magnet program, McKay will head to the University of Florida this fall to study pharmacy.
After graduation, she expects to return home to the Glades, to help improve the health of Glades residents. Only one hospital, Lakeside Medical Center, serves Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, the county’s three towns which rim the edge of Lake Okeechobee.
McKay also hopes that the area will attract new jobs, so young people like her who go away to college will have a reason to return.
“I could never forget about where I’m from,” McKay said. “This place made me who I am.”
What’s on your iPod?
Who is your hero and why?
My mom (a high school teacher), because she is an example of a strong black woman.
What’s your favorite TV show?
“The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I really hate driving.
What is your motto?
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” Philippians 4:13.