By KIMEKO MCCOY
When homeschooled sophomore Emily Gilliland got involved with the St. Augustine 450th Youth Ambassadors, she had no idea it would end up a family affair.
Emily got involved and the rest happened similar to a domino effect and before she knew it, her whole family had some part in volunteering with the ambassadors at one point or another.
With her two older brothers and parents volunteering, the nation’s oldest city just got that much more family friendly.
Learning a lot
Before getting involved with the ambassadors, Emily didn’t know much about the organization.
In fact, it was her mother, Kristin, who saw some information about it in the newspaper and suggested that her daughter apply to get involved.
“It just sounded like a good opportunity for her to learn about the city,” Kristin said.
The ambassadors are a group of young people that participate in hands-on learning experience to facilitate the 450th initiative, according to the group’s website. The group also learns service, communication, networking and other skills.
For Kristin, these are just a few of the values she hopes to instill in her daughter as she becomes an adult.
When the organization had its first meeting in 2011, Emily attended but was a little on edge because she didn’t know anyone.
The ambassador’s coordinators Nancy Birchall and Jeani Taliaferro had everyone split up into smaller groups and that gave Emily the chance to meet others on a more personal level.
Since then, involvement with the Youth Ambassadors has kept the Gilliland family learning.
Emily’s older brothers, Brandon and Joshua, volunteered shortly after their sister got involved during high school and participated until they left for college.
Outside of Kristin and her three children, dad, Scott has managed to get involved too.
“He and my son did the cannon school,” Kristin said “and if it were not for them being involved in it (the ambassadors), they’d have never know about that (the cannon school).”
Before St. Augustine, the family was living in Mississippi but moved to the ancient city in 1998.
When they arrived, Emily says her family did go exploring but the ambassadors showed her a lot more than she’d seen before.
Her favorite trip so far has been to the Ripley’s Museum.
“My favorite one was the Ripley’s Museum,” Emily said. “It was so interesting because we got to go in rooms that normally just people going to visit can’t go in.”
Emily said she’s been to Ripley’s before but visiting with the ambassadors showed her a lot more than she’d seen before.
“I learned a lot about different things,” Emily said.
One of the major things Emily has done with the ambassadors was their debut production of “Young Voices in the Old City.”
The show debuted at one of St. Augustine’s Rotary Clubs where Emily portrayed Juana Avero, a Spanish girl who lived in St. Augustine across from the Castillo de San Marcos in the 1700s.
Outside of the ambassadors
When Emily’s not busy exploring the city with the ambassadors, she’s working toward her education and studies.
Sophomore Emily homeschooled and has been since the fourth grade.
Emily’s homeschool program is online where she participates in classes every day, much like a college level online class.
Basically, the teachers are full time teachers.
On certain days, certain classes have live lessons where students are taught lessons that will require a virtually submitted assignment every week.
“It’s a little different program,” she said “but it’s the same material.”
Although only a sophomore, Emily has already started scoping out schools that could be in her near future.
Two of those in particular are Southeastern University in Lakeland and Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach.
Those are the two she’s been looking at as she’s interested in doing something in the medical field.
Emily is also a dancer. She practices ballet and pointe dancing.
“I’ve been dancing kind of off and on since I was 4,” Emily said.
She started at a studio in downtown St. Augustine when the family first moved here.
After a hiatus, Emily got back involved in dancing about three years ago.
Continuing her artistic abilities, Emily has practiced piano for about eight years.
She plays for church for the most part. She can play some classical pieces and does well with memorizing pieces.
“Most of what she plays is worship music,” her mother said. “That’s what she’s always done.”
On Thursdays, she leads worship for her church youth group where she sings and plays the keyboard.
Reverb Church where there’s drums, base and acoustic guitar.
With the help of her dad and older brothers, Emily has recently been learning how to play guitar.
“I taught myself a few chords and then my dad taught me a strum pattern so I can kind of play,” she said. “I can carry a tune with a guitar.”
When she’s not doing music, Emily practices photography. Josh got it into it when they would spend their time taking artful pictures.
Now, Emily does photo shoots, captures nature scenes and urban scenes.