FELTON — From mentoring young students in the Lake Forest School District to volunteering with a local food bank in Felton, 17-year-old Elle Harden has made an impression on people of all ages throughout Kent County.
One of those people is his world history teacher, Karen Williams, at Lake Forest High School.
“He’s just one of those great kids that makes you think, ‘I want a full roster of kids like him,’” she said.
For his work in the community and in the classroom, Elle was recently awarded a $1,500 scholarship from the Zeta Rho Lambda chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The scholarship was announced at the fraternity’s 35th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast held on Monday, Jan. 15 at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.
The Zeta Rho Lambda scholarship is open to juniors or seniors living in Kent or Sussex County, who have a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher. In addition to their academic achievements, applicants are also evaluated for their involvement in extra-curricular activities and the community.
One of Elle’s football coaches at Lake Forest High School, Carlton Brown, who is also a member of the fraternity, recommended that Elle apply for the scholarship.
Elle said he submitted the application and was then required to interview with several members of the fraternity, including Mr. Brown. Elle said having his coach as one of the interview panelists helped calm some of his nerves.
“It gave me confidence,” he said. “I wasn’t as pressured as I would have been if he wasn’t there.”
When Elle was notified that he had been awarded the scholarship, he said he was grateful for the recognition.
“It was an honor to receive that award,” he said, adding that in the days after his interview he tried not to convince himself that he was a shoo-in for the scholarship.
“I was pretty humble, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t get it,” he said. “But I just kept praying.”
During his four years at Lake Forest High School, Elle has remained an honor roll student and a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and competing in track and field. In 2014, Elle competed in the Junior Olympics for track and field, ultimately advancing to the Nationals.
“It was a great experience to have exposure to other athletes and to meet other students from different states,” he said.
“In the beginning, they would just say hi and thank you, but now we have conversations, and they ask me how school is going and how football is going,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Elle said he enjoys the time he spends at the food pantry and the people he has met while participating in it.
“It’s just a joy when you see their smile, and they’re so happy to see you,” he said.
Elle also regularly mentors elementary school students within the Lake Forest School District. He said he uses the experience to help the students cope with whatever they might be going through in and out of school.
“Talking to the younger kids, you can find out what it’s like for them and meet their needs and support them,” he said. “It feels great to help them throughout the year.”
Many of the students attend Elle’s football games and cheer him on during the season.
“The kids like coming to the football games,” he said. “They like seeing me play.”
Elle has four brothers and two sisters and says he and his family are close-knit, despite it sometimes being a chaotic scene in the Harden household.
“You learn a lot of life lessons,” he said.
His parents, Corey and Marta, and siblings keep him motivated, and Mrs. Williams said she thinks their influence is one reason Elle has done so well in school and outside of the classroom.
“He has a lot of parental support,” she said.
Along with the support from his parents and siblings, Mrs. Williams said Elle also has teachers, coaches, friends and members of his church looking out for him.
“He’s got great role models in his life,” she said. “He has a lot of people that seem to care about what he’s doing.”
She said she thinks this encouragement from his family and others is what inspires Elle to want to make a difference in the world around him, and it will be what drives him to succeed in the future.
“I think he feels like people were there for him, so he’s going to try and be there for other people,” she said.
Elle plans to enroll in college in the fall. He’s eying several institutions, including James Madison University in Virginia and Rutgers University in New Jersey, but he’s not tying himself down to a specific school just yet.
“My options are still open,” he said.
Regardless of what school he ultimately chooses, Elle said he plans to remain grateful for the opportunities he’s been provided.
“I just plan to take it day by day and just be thankful that each day has been given to me,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jessica Eisenbrey is a freelance writer living in Wilmington.