It’s rather fitting that Hunter Whitten ended up working in the construction industry—after all, he helped rebuild his hometown years ago.

Whitten grew up in the small town of Hackleburg, AL, which has a population of less than 1,500. Outside of a handful of small business owners, most of the townspeople either travel to another city for work or they’re employed by the local Wrangler plant. And then there’s the high school, where Whitten was one of 30 members of his graduating class in a school system that had roughly 250 people total K-12.

Hackleburg shares a particular and tragic bond with the rest of the state, though: This small town was one of many that was decimated by the tornadoes of April 27, 2011.

“75 percent of the town was destroyed and 18 people lost their lives that day,” Whitten recalls. “Our school was completely destroyed, as was the Wrangler plant, the grocery store, banks, pharmacies, not to mention the people that lost their houses and more importantly their loved ones. Some parts of the town are still rebuilding seven years later.”

It takes more than just bricks and mortar for a town to rebuild, though. In Hackleburg, it was an emotional recovery and a psychological recovery as much as a physical recovery.

One of the bright spots for Hackleburg in recent years has been the success of its young people—and Whitten is no exception.

As part of a sports-centric small town, Whitten lettered in basketball and baseball, and he excelled academically as a member of SGA, FFA, Jr. Civitan, Beta Club, 4H, FBLA, and other clubs, as well as the Upward Bound college program that helps students prepare to transition to college.

He was also a recipient of CollegeCounts’ first scholarship class in 2013.

“The CollegeCounts scholarship truly helped me get a jumpstart on my academic career,” Whitten says. “State Treasurer Young Boozer was at my graduation and personally handed me a scholarship certificate, which was an awesome moment for me and my family.”

After graduating from Hackleburg High School in 2013, Whitten went on to major in Building Construction (i.e. Construction Management) at Auburn University, where he also worked part-time all four years, participated in intramural sports, and volunteered with an organization called Alternative Student Breaks (ASB).

His work with ASB took Whitten all over the country and beyond to provide assistance in many different ways, including disaster relief, children’s healthcare, homeless assistance, animal welfare, and much more. His trips included Atlantic City, NJ; Moore, OK; Hendersonville, NC; Little Rock, AR; Selma, AL; Coast Rica; Ecuador; and Nicaragua.

Ever since he witnessed the destruction of his own hometown, Whitten has always wanted to give back any way that he can.

“It was a mission of mine to find ways to give back,” Whitten says. “When Hackleburg was hit by the tornado, people from all over the country came to a town they had probably never heard of to help us get back on our feet. ASB gave me the opportunity to give back and do the same.”

Whitten now works for Turner Construction Company in downtown Nashville where he spends his days working on scheduling, quality control, data management, and other tasks.

Because his career is just getting started, Whitten is still keenly aware of the steps that helped him get to this point—including the CollegeCounts 529 scholarship, which is why he would recommend all qualified high school students to apply no matter what.

“My advice would be to always apply,” Whitten says. “I never thought that I would actually be selected to receive it, but this scholarship helped me achieve my dreams and goals.”

To learn more about the CollegeCounts 529 scholarship and apply today, click here.