For middle school health and PE teacher Brandy Gurley, the reason she mentors is very simple.
“I don’t like to see kids do without,” Gurley said. Gurley frequently has several students she mentors at one time. She also buys Christmas presents for them and sees that they have other things that they need. But the main thing she provides is a stable adult presence in their lives.
“I want them to know someone cares about them,” she said. “I see so many sad situations, some kids don’t have enough food or clothing to wear, some don’t have the best home life either.”
Her aunt, Beth Coker, feels the same way. Coker has been part of the mentor program since it first began in 1998, and like her niece, usually has more than one mentor at a time.
“The most I’ve had is three at one time,” Coker said. “I am always excited to be part of their lives and to see what God is going to do with them.” She currently has a boy mentee at Danielsville Elementary and a little girl she mentors at Hull-Sanford.
Gurley and Coker are not unique to the mentor program.
Dee Osborne mentored a little girl at Comer Elementary after her daughter, former assistant principal Jodi Cronic suggested it after Osborne retired as a secretary at Colbert Elementary.
“I loved kids and I missed them, so I mentored a little girl in fourth and fifth grade,” she said. “She was a sweet little girl from a broken home. We did puzzles, played games and read. It was a delight.”
Her son, former Hull-Sanford PE teacher Mike Osborne is also a mentor.
“I give my mom all the credit for whatever I do to help, she taught me to love and to give,” Osborne said.
Wayne Douglas and his wife, Carol, a former principal at Ila Elementary, have both mentored different students for a number of years. Mr. Douglas has mentored his current mentee since first grade. The boy is a sixth grader this year.
“The first two years I mentored, at Carol’s suggestion, were a challenge at best,” Mr. Douglas said. “I kept getting a student and they kept moving out of the county.” But this boy has been different. Mr. Douglas said he is getting to see him grow into a young man.
“We play games, football and basketball, and it’s getting tough,” Mr. Douglas said laughing. “I’m 65 years old now and he’s getting faster and stronger. I’m tired when I leave.”
And though his mentee may not realize it, Mr. Douglas says he tries to teach the boy something at every visit.
“I teach while we play, and it’s a pleasure doing it,” he said. “I‘ll be there as long as he wants me to be. It’s been a real blessing for me.”
For Mrs. Douglas, the experience has also been a blessing. She first mentored a student who was struggling while she was principal at Ila. After she retired, she began to mentor a little girl in the first grade and has stayed with her as she transitioned from Ila to middle school.
“We (she and Mr. Douglas) are quite involved in her life,” she said, adding they the student’s mother is handicapped and she lives in fear of losing her. “We babysit, we take her places, we are as involved in her life as she and her mom want us to be.”
Mr. Douglas said in his mind that’s what the ideal mentoring experience should be – to go beyond school.
“Our examples are right here,” he said, pointing to Doyle and Helen Beatenbough. “They turned that young man’s life around.”
The Beatenboughs mentored a young man from the fourth grade until they watched him walk down the aisle at his graduation ceremony in 2014.
And they didn’t stop there.
They still keep up with him and noted that he now serves in the National Guard and has his first full-time job.
The couple is still amazed at how far he’s come from where he was in his life, but more than that, they say they are amazed at the difference he made in their lives.
“He’s the one who’s been a real blessing to us,” Mr. Beatenbough said.
Jo and Bill Jackson couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.
The couple began unofficially mentoring two boys at Gordon’s Chapel Church where Rev. Jackson was pastoring at the time after their father passed away just before Christmas.
“It was a ‘God thing’,” Mrs. Jackson said. “We would bring them to church and afterwards take them to lunch….for Christmas the church bought them bicycles and we took them to the parsonage after church to let them ride them there on Sunday afternoons.”
Their mom was struggling with drug and other issues, so the Jacksons filled in where they could. Then they heard about the school’s mentoring program and contacted coordinator Shirley Aaron and became their official mentors.
“These are two bright kids with great potential,” Mrs. Jackson said. “We believe if you can make a difference in one person’s life it can change everything.”
Her husband agrees.
“We believe we need to spread what we’ve been given,” he said, adding that he would like to see the boys get into a structured sports program, perhaps at the recreation department. Several other mentors spoke up at that moment to give advice and offer assistance to the Jacksons.
One of those was assistant school superintendent Michael Williams. He and his wife, Christy, each mentor a student who is in the ninth grade. Both their mentees were recipients of the first-annual REACH college scholarships as eighth graders, which requires them to maintain a certain grade point average and to sign a contract that they will stay in school and out of trouble.
Williams said he feels a sense of belonging is very important to any child and that being part of a team can certainly foster that.
Gerald Coutant, along with his wife Fern, began mentoring in 1998 and mentored several students over the years.
Coutant said he feels adult leadership is sorely missing in the lives of young men and women today. He cited an incident from years ago when he served as a scoutmaster when they lived out west. He was worked as a landscape architect at a detention facility.
“When I would take my scouts on weekend trips and things, those inmates (who helped with the landscape work) would be waiting on Mondays to hear all about what we did and where we went,” Coutant said. “They commented that they had never had anyone do things like that with them. I thought to myself then, what an opportunity had been missed with those young fellows.”