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Gainesville graduate works with Center Point to keep students on positive path
Center Point Director David Smith and Bailey Armour chat in downtown Gainesville Wednesday afternoon about her experience at Center Point. Bailey started visiting Center Point during her freshman year at Gainesville High, and she's been mentored by the staff and involved in a substance abuse committee ever since.

Bailey Armour never expected everyone to know her name.

The Gainesville graduate began high school believing she would fly under the radar until graduation. Instead, Armour helped create and strengthen programs and classes that would change her classmates’ lives.

As a freshman, Armour, now 18, was shy and intimidated by high school. Then, she met high school seniors Nick Smith and Jesse Mitchum, who introduced her to Center Point. The local company offers counseling services, mentoring, religious support and education and drug and alcohol education to Hall County.

“We have tried to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of the community,” Center Point director David Smith said. “We want people to feel comfortable to become who they want to be.”

Armour began taking an independent study religion class through Gainesville High School and the organization. Soon, she earned an invitation for an exclusive club dedicated to doing good.

“SPEED stands for ‘Students Putting Extra Emphasis on Decisions,’” Armour said. “It was overwhelmingly the biggest thing at Center Point that impacted me.”

Center Point began its substance abuse prevention programs in 2001, but with the help of Armour and her classmates, the drug and alcohol prevention programs, as well as programs promoting smart decision-making have grown and flourished.

“We do seat belt checks in the parking lot around time for prom where we will stand at the top of the parking lot and see how many students are wearing their seat belts,” Armour said. “We also do the ‘Fatal Vision’ program with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.”

The SPEED group at Gainesville High had been participating in seat belt checks and the annual drunken-driving prevention production for years, but Armour’s group took the messages one step further. They made the messages students had been hearing their entire school career relevant and relatable.

“Older grades before us seemed to party a lot, and people knew about it,” Armour said. “They had specific groups of friends, and they weren’t nice to the underclassmen. We just accepted it.

“With SPEED, when we got older, we all came from different circles of friends,” she continued. “We wanted to be examples for people to look up to. People listened to what we had to say because they were our peers.”

Then, Smith refocused some of the organization’s goals to better reach the students.

“We really want people to come back to their center and be the best of themselves,” Smith said. “We wanted our priority to be making students feel respected, appreciated and accepted. An anonymous survey showed when they feel respected, students are more likely to listen to advice.”

As student leaders, Armour, other SPEED members and high school leaders took a look at how students wanted to be remembered and what their classmates seemed to respect.

Although SPEED was dedicated to enforcing certain rules and preventing poor decision making, its invite-only nature made it coveted and popular, just as with other classes, such as ethics, at Center Point.

“There was a waiting list to take (independent study) classes,” Smith said. “Students really wanted to get involved when they saw their peers in these leadership positions.”

Each year, more and more students wanted to be a part of Center Point and SPEED’s mission. The group expanded its programming to include more events throughout the year, including speakers Armour said particularly affected many of her friends. One such speaker who impacted the students was Chris Sandy, who drove drunk and killed an elderly couple.

“His program is called ‘Enduring Regret,’ and we handed out these key chains that say something about drinking and driving,” Armour said. “And almost everyone put them on their keys.”

She said she saw plenty of the brightly colored key fobs around school and realized students listened to Sandy’s message. Center Point then conducted a survey to see just how many teens are actually drinking underage. The anonymous survey yielded surprising results.

“It showed that approximately 89 percent of students in Hall County don’t drink,” Smith said.

The notion ‘everyone does it’ was shattered for Armour and many high schoolers in the area. Slowly, a change in mentality began to take place.

“As a grade, we collectively kind of decided that we were not going to (drink) or be mean to the underclassmen or pressure them because we didn’t like it when we were underclassmen,” Armour said. “We decided that (drinking) wasn’t how we wanted to be reflected as a grade.”

The shift yielded a program called “Not Everyone’s Doing It,” which aims to correct misconceptions high school students have about drinking. The SPEED group used the program to show students, contrary to popular belief, they don’t have to drink or do drugs to be “cool.”

“You always hear ‘Oh, everybody does it; it’s not a big deal,’’ Armour said. “Or they say ‘If you do it you’ll have all these friends and get invited to all these places,’ and it’s just not true.”

Armour and SPEED also sent letters to parents near prom season to discourage them from providing alcohol to minors in their home. The group is also working on a campaign to hold parents more accountable should they allow minors to drink in their home.

Although Armour has no personal connection to drinking or drugs that motivated her activism, she admits she may have followed the crowd without the help of Center Point and SPEED.

“I’m really gullible,” Armour said. “If I didn’t have this guidance, I would probably have gone along with whatever anyone else was doing or saying.”

Instead, the respect and acceptance she found at Center Point helped her think freely and make her own decisions without worry of judgment. Being able to be herself made Armour more likely to listen to or seek advice, which she passed on to others.

“We had freshman/senior buddies, and I tried to talk to the underclassmen about Center Point and let them know that you don’t have to do all this stuff to be cool,” Armour said.

Now that Armour has graduated, she is no longer a member of SPEED, but continues her work with Center Point as an assistant within the organization.

“When I started high school, I didn’t know where my spiritual life was going, and I didn’t know where my future was going,” Armour said. “Center Point helped me handle all of those things through mentors and the other people I met there.”

Armour noted she has transformed as a person, a Christian and a leader through Center Point, SPEED and her teachers and mentors. Now, she is invested in being a community leader and continues to better herself and Center Point with new ideas and staying involved.

“Through Center Point, I realized that I have worth,” Armour said. “I realized there’s no reason why I can’t be influential. I go to the Drug Free Coalition meetings now and work with clients of Center Point and I feel called to do that.”

Smith said the program, though it originated as a religious education opportunity, is now about “people discovering who they are and what their plan is.”

For Armour, her plan is to attend the University of Kentucky and major in equine medicine all while spreading acceptance and making people feel welcome like she did at Center Point.

“I want to take leadership opportunities that allow me to make a difference,” Armour said. “I want to be able to give advice and talk to people like my mentors did with me and help as many people as I can. Center Point forced me to open up to people, but it was also a place where I could go and be myself and not worry.”

Soon, students in the southern end of the county near Johnson, West Hall and Flowery Branch High will have access to Center Point. Center Point will open a location on Atlanta Highway in Flowery Branch thanks to the Medical Center Foundation, which chose Center Point as the beneficiary of the 2014 Medical Center Open golf tournament.

“It’s amazing the people that want to get involved with this,” Smith said. “I want to recruit more mentors for the new location.”

Smith is also open to expanding programs like SPEED and the ethics and religion classes to schools in the southern end of the county.

“I have been in contact with the Hall County School System, and we are very open to doing that; we just need the staffing and the resources to do it,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Armour will continue doing her best to advance Center Point and herself this summer.

“I’m always wondering how we can be better,” Armour said. “(My friends and I) want to be leaders and changers and movers and shakers. We want to feel like we matter and we succeed, and Center Point helps us do that. Now I just want to be of service to them.”