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Center Point uses education to strengthen local students
Center Point religious education instructor Thomas Jackson leads a discussion on ethics. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Queata Waller keeps making that walk across Elephant Trail.

A Gainesville High School senior, she is taking her fourth class at Center Point, a nonprofit organization across the street from the school that provides, among other services, Christian education classes.

"We get to learn a lot about how people compare what goes on in the world to different religions," she said.

Area churches formed Center Point in 1967 in order to offer religious classes to public school students, after community leaders had deemed they were legal as long as the center accepted no public money and held classes off the GHS campus.

"The reason they started it was to give children of this community the opportunity to explore their faith and explore the religious culture that is the fabric of this nation and community," said David Smith, the center's executive director.

Classes have taken place since 1969 at 1050 Elephant Trail, a building that has seen a few changes, including expansions, since it opened.

The organization, initially known just as the Christian Education Center, created the name Center Point to reflect a wider mission. Center Point now features counseling, mentoring and alcohol and tobacco programs.

The board of directors "always had a pulse on the community and what was happening," Smith said.

"We're trying to give people, especially young people, handles where they can steer their lives in positive directions," he added.

In 1985, the center started Adolescent and Family Counseling Services. By 1987, United Way "was supporting that part of the program," Smith said.

In 1994, the center started a program to train and send adult mentors into schools to help with at-risk youths.

Board members also recognized the flow of international students into the community and were concerned with teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and parent education, said Smith, who has served as director since 1989.

"One of the reasons this agency has been so successful is we have really tried to hear our community, particularly (issues regarding) young people," he said. "The emphasis has always been on students. The issues surrounding them - we've always tried to be on top of that."

Waller said she believes Center Point is doing the job well.

Students are getting regular doses of academic subjects, such as math and science. The center's classes "show people a different perspective of the world," she said.

"It teaches you what goes outside in the world, after you leave high school," Waller added.

Patrick Rooks, 14, a freshman, added, "It gives you the chance to learn about things you generally wouldn't in school - religious stuff they can't talk about."

The center served 6,874 students last year and at least 100,000 in the past 20 years.

At one point, Center Point had a campus at Johnson High School but discontinued that operation after interest waned.

Also, the organization had looked at putting up buildings on property near other high schools in Hall County, but the "capital outlay in trying to get all that going just got overwhelming," Smith said.

Eventually, Smith would like to start online instruction where "cost is not an issue" for students.

"I've got to find sponsorship for that program to go," he said.

He said he also would like to expand counseling services, even though the agency is "covered up" in referrals from different places.

"We really need more space. We really need to add on again," Smith said.

Substance abuse prevention is another area that could use beefing up, he said.

"Statistics will show you, we do a great job as a community in educating our kids (on that topic) in elementary and middle school," Smith said.

Not so much in high schools.

"We are trying to help with some of the resources (there), but we need to expand our staff and have the money to do that," he said.