A North Augusta High student will be recognized throughout the state this month as part of a photo exhibit project in Columbia.
Elisabeth Harkins, a junior at the high school, will be part of Family Connection of South Carolina’s Look! Forward photo exhibit, which showcases children and young adults who have overcome disabilities.
Harkins, who was diagnosed with scoliosis eight years ago, was one of 50 selected throughout the state to be a part of the exhibit at the Tapp’s Arts Center and is the only person selected from Aiken County.
When Harkins first discovered she had scoliosis, she said it was by accident during a routine visit to the doctor. She said that during the visit, she bent over to tie her shoe and after her shirt lifted a tad, the doctor noticed an irregularity in her back.
“We found out by accident, which blows my mind sometimes because I was tying my shoe and they just noticed my back,” she said. “Sometimes I think what would have happened if I had never done that.”
Harkins’ grandmother Lisa added, “It kind of just blows your mind a little bit. If she hadn’t happened to bend over and do that, we might not have ever found out, and then as they grow a lot of times their curves will get worse.”
Since then, Harkins has worked to spread awareness for scoliosis, having former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones issue proclamations in June for Scoliosis Awareness Month the past four and three years, respectively.
In addition to raising awareness to the disability throughout the state and CSRA, Harkins also founded a Curvy Girls group for girls with scoliosis in South Carolina and parts of Georgia. Curvy Girls is a national network of peer-led support groups that reduce the emotional impact of scoliosis by empowering girls through mutual support and acceptance to become leaders, make healthy lifestyle choices and improve self-esteem, according to the organization’s website.
“It has been carving who I am, kind of,” said Elisabeth. “I’m glad that I’ve been able to help the girls and to see that they’re actually improving is pretty good.”
Lisa said that since Elisabeth was diagnosed she has noticed her become more vocal about the disability, and her work in advocating for scoliosis awareness has led to her taking leadership roles in other areas of her life.
“I’ve noticed with her she’s more willing now to take on a leadership role in different things,” she said. “She doesn’t mind talking about the scoliosis. For her, it hasn’t really stopped her from doing what she does.”
Outside of her work with scoliosis, Elisabeth is involved with North Augusta’s NJROTC program and band, and also started a sign language club this school year. She also serves as the president of the Aiken County Red Cross Youth Board.
“I don’t think she would’ve taken that kind of initiative maybe five or six years ago, so in a weird way the scoliosis, even though it’s a negative thing, it has kind of had a positive impact on her,” said Lisa.
Elisabeth said that what she’s been most proud of throughout her battle with scoliosis is how she has been able to reach out to other girls with the disability and help them.
“There are people with scoliosis, but not a lot of them talk about it a lot, so for me to say something could start off everybody else,” she said. “It’s something really big and some people just mistake it for something that’s small and doesn’t mean anything.”
Elisabeth’s exhibit will be on display throughout April at the Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main Street in Columbia. The Center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.