County youth works for once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia

Posted on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

By John Coffelt, Staff Writer

Thomas Lawson (Staff photo by John Coffelt)

If all goes as planned, local middle school student Thomas Lawson, a bright, precocious 11-year-old, will board a series of flights this summer that will hopscotch across the country before landing almost 10,000 miles, and another hemisphere, away in Australia. 

The journey actually began back in September when Lawson received a nomination letter by People to People in the mail to be a student international ambassador.

It outlined the 15-day trip that is hoped to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Thomas will join 40 other fifth- and sixth-grade students from across the country.

Their itinerary includes a trip to Sydney’s Olympic Park Aquatic Center (built for the 2000 summer Olympics), a visit to Parliament House, a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and indigent school in Queensland.

“We are so proud of him,” said Thomas’ mother, Davina Lawson.

Over the months that have followed the September letter, Davina has poured over the internet, checking out the company offering the trip, and in recent months has attended monthly meetings with the main chaperones and fellow participants’ from Middle Tennessee.

The trip will be by far the longest Thomas has ever been away from home, so understandably, his mother is nervous.

“I’ll be a nervous wreck,” she said.

As for Thomas, he lights up when he talks about what he calls “the ranch,” where the children will stay.

“It’s sort of like the military,” he explains. “They’ve got bunkers set up – one side’s for boys, one side’s for the girls. They’ll teach us how to crack a bullwhip, and use a lasso. We’ll get to ride horses.”

He said that they will visit an underprivileged school to help out and later spend the day at parliament.

“I can’t wait until we land,” he said.

He is looking forward to eating calamari and kangaroo.

The trip is intended to be educational and fun, but it’s not free.

They have held bake sales, offered business sponsorships and will hold a yard sale at the end of April to keep up with the cost of the trip.

Much of the work Thomas has done himself.

“He’s pretty grownup for an 11-year-old,” Thomas’ mother says. “He has went into banks…and businesses – if I’m not with him, he could be rattling on, but if I’m there he gets nervous, so I stay out in the car.”

She says that Thomas will come from various shops with a “Mom we’ve got to come go to this place or come back at such and such time.”

Thomas said that the company offers scholarship incentives along the way.

One recent one was an essay contest in which the winner received $500 towards the trip.

“They do a lot of educational things too,” Davina said. “It’s going to be worth it I think.”

To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Devina Lawson at (615) 785-8265.

Headlines of the Day