Cleburne High School 2020 graduates Belle Mahaffey and Nathan Barnes are the first recipients of the Cathy Marchel Community Heart Scholarship, established in memory of the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce president who was passionate about serving others.

Justin Marchel said in creating the scholarship, the goal was to honor his late wife’s service as a chamber leader, and the role of service, which was very important to her.

“Cathy was so proud, even obsessive, about serving the community — and community service,” Marchel said. “She believed in giving back and making sure the businesses served by the chamber felt that support. Not everyone has that level of passion. With Cathy, it wasn’t just because she was the chamber president. It was just who she was. Cathy also loved working with people.”

The Community Heart scholarship has been a family effort, as Justin and his children, Haleigh, Lexie and Tanner, all CHS graduates, developed the criteria, reviewed the applications and decided on two honorees to each receive $1,000 awards to assist with their first year of college.

“We all looked at the applications and made a choice together,” Marchel said. “In making our decision, we looked at the students’ involvement in community service throughout high school, what it has meant to them, and their sense of community pride. We also requested an essay in which they could share about people in the community who may have helped them.

“It was a very tough decision to make. Everyone wrote beautifully. But we thought that the two we chose had a little ‘extra,’ and exemplified what we were thinking about in establishing the scholarship. 

“We knew the scholarships would go to good kids and would help them go to school. If we had the money, we would have honored them all.”

Barnes, who will attend Texas A&M University to study computer engineering, has been engaged in a variety of community service initiatives in his four years at CHS as a member of academic/service organizations including Beta Club and National Honor Society. 

As a junior, he received the NHS Service Award. His service record has ranged from Toys for Tots and canned food drives for Operation Blessing to participation in school-organized coat drives and the CHS Student Council STinG Week fundraising project to assist critically ill fellow students with medical expenses. 

Barnes has also included the annual Buffalo Creek Clean-Up project on his list of extracurricular activities which has also included four years of FFA competitions, National Technical Honor Society and captain of the Cleburne Crazies spirit squad. 

As a member of the Cleburne Bible Church youth group, he has given time and elbow grease to clean-up and spruce-up projects involving the homes of elderly residents.

He was a member of the top ten percent of the CHS Class of 2020, a four-year Academic Excellence Award and Beta Summa Cum Laude Award honoree and was named to the CHS Beta Club Wall of Fame for A’s in all subjects throughout his high school years. 

Barnes also achieved the A++ and PC Pro industry-standard certifications as an information technology student in the CHS Career and Technical Education program. Barnes has been named the 2020 recipient of the Gerard Scholarship through the Alumni Scholarship program.

While Mahaffey wasn’t born in Cleburne, nor has family roots here, she says the “community” she has experienced will make Cleburne her “forever home.”

“Cleburne is full of people willing to go out of their way to help others,” Mahaffey wrote in her scholarship essay. “Dedicated to outreach, whether through the snack-pack program to feed hungry students or Christmas in Action to help repair deteriorating homes, the people of Cleburne will always be there in times of need.”

Mahaffey has personally experienced that community compassion and concern. 

“When I was a freshman, my fathered suffered from congestive heart failure, spending months in the hospital,” she said. “When I needed it most, there was always someone there to support me, and my family. When my mom was staying with my father at the hospital, there was always someone there to pick me up from school and cheer me on at my basketball games. 

“There was always someone there to bring me and my brother dinner when our mom was at the hospital. When I think back on those months, I remember the fridge overflowing with casseroles and desserts. Cleburne is filled with people dedicated to giving others all the tools they need to thrive. I will be forever grateful for that.”

Mahaffey will attend Purdue University to study biology, her first step in plans to become a surgeon. Fifth in her graduating class, she has also received top honors in Beta Club including the Summa Cum Laude and Wall of Fame recognitions. Her school activities have included service projects in Beta and National Honor Society, STinG Week and membership in National Technical Honor Society and National French Honor Society. 

She is a four-year Academic Excellence Award honoree and received the 2020 Christa McAuliffe Award as the outstanding graduate in science. She also competed on the Jackets swim team. She is the recipient of a CHS Alumni Scholarship, the Purdue University Presidential Scholarship, Hazelwood Berkley Foundation Scholarship and the Rick Hope Scholarship.

“Cathy would be proud we’ve given two very deserving kids the opportunity to pay for school,” Marchel said. “We had three kids who graduated from college — we know how expensive it is. She would be very happy to help kids in that way, and we are blessed to get the scholarship started and present two awards this year. 

“Our hopes are people will continue to remember Cathy, and to recognize and remember others with that same passion for service, in donating to the Community Heart Scholarship. It’s the kids who will benefit.”

Donations to the Cathy Marchel Community Heart scholarship can be made at any area Pinnacle Bank. Proceeds from the Cathy Marchel STinG Run 5K, a new project of the CHS Student Council in conjunction with the Students Together in Giving initiative, benefit the Community Heart Scholarship. 

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