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Gainesville Jaycees put teens to the test with leadership program
Participants in The Gainesville Jaycees Gut Check program fall in line at Pine Valley Friday afternoon. The program is in its 15th year and is designed to teach young men discipline, leadership, safety and structured high energy.

"Over the wall. Over the wall. You can do it!"

Equal parts demand and encouragement, the shout echoed among the trees at the Pine Valley recreational complex in Dahlonega.

Loud and insistent, but it wasn’t alone. Other commands like, "Your left. Your left. Your left, right left," and "faster, faster" could be heard just above the panting, stomping feet and buzzing insects.

Contrary to appearances, the young men following orders weren’t military recruits.

Instead, they were the teenage participants in the Gainesville Jaycees Gut Check program.

"Gut Check started in 1997 as a team building and leadership program for (teenage boys) in Hall County schools," said Bryan St. Pierre, who is co-directing the program with Stephen Shockley.

"There’s a lot of military based training because it contains a lot of life and leadership skills that will be useful to them."

The annual program began on Thursday and concluded with a graduation ceremony Sunday.

Although it took place during the summer and the boys spent several nights away from home, don’t lump it in the same category as "camp."

"I’ve been away at camp before, but this is different," said Tyrus Cobb, a rising seventh grader at South Hall Middle School.

"It’s tough."

"It’s hard," said Blake Kesley, a West Hall Middle School rising eighth-grader, "but fun."

"Real fun," added Tyrus.

The high level of physical activity was a new, but welcomed, challenge for many of the participants.

"There’s a lot of exercising," said Samuel Tolentino, a rising ninth-grader at West Hall High School.

"But I’m learning a lot of things like discipline."

Even though there are "a lot of push ups," Quayshun Holcomb is also expanding his knowledge base.

"This is totally different from my usual summer vacation, but I’m learning stuff," said Quayshun, who will be a Gainesville High School sophomore in the fall.

"I’ve learned how to help my team. And I’ve learned to stop someone if you see them doing something wrong and to show them the right thing to do."

During their extended stay, the Gut Check participants also had visits from guest speakers, went on field trips and enjoyed a little male bonding.

They also had the opportunity to experience college life as temporary inhabitants of the North Georgia College & State University residence halls.

"There’s no cost to them," St. Pierre said.

"The Jaycees do fund raising throughout the year to support Gut Check and our other programs."

After the summer is over, the Jaycees check in on their former charges at least once a month.

"We just want to see how they’re doing," St. Pierre said.

"We want to see them doing well. If we can change one kid who’s having trouble, then we’ve done our job."

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