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Center Point awards scholarships, presents awards at Our Heroes Dinner
Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice commissioner spoke at event
Center Point board chairman Brad Patten addresses the crowd Tuesday night. - photo by Kristen Oliver

Exceptional young people in the community and the “heroes” who support them were recognized in an awards dinner Tuesday evening.

The Center Point Honoring Our Heroes Dinner awarded multiple scholarships, presented several awards and welcomed special guest speaker Avery Niles, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice commissioner.

“This is a wonderful evening at Center Point that we enjoy so much, because we get to recognize people that have made a significant contribution, not only to the center, but to the community at large,” said Executive Director David Smith.

Center Point was created more than 45 years ago to provide off-site religion classes for public school students. Today, it is a multi-dimensional student and family nonprofit program with a large mentor program.

Niles was asked to address the evening’s scholarship winners and the high school students present. He challenged them to create a vision for themselves and make “no excuses” in aspiring toward it.

“Anybody can change their lifestyle,” Niles said. “They can change their focus. One thing we can’t change is our past. Our young people here, when you look at your past, let it be a step in the right direction for your future.”

Niles addressed the 10 or so students present, including scholarship winners Ambar Villatoro, Carlee Cosper and Ashleigh Bishop. Several other students were presented awards for leadership, integrity and more.

Multiple adult mentors and members of the board were recognized for their service to the center, including Scott McGarity, board treasurer, who was awarded the Pat Burd Community Commitment Award, and Center Point mentor Brendann Jordan, who was named the Mentor of the Year.

Nicknamed “Momma Jordan,” she’s been a mentor for 17 years.

Brad Patten, chairman of the board, described Center Point today as a “wonderful whirlwind of craziness,” with expanded facilities, staff and services.

“When I first got on our board of directors, I was told by a lot of people that had served on a board that you just come to a meeting once a month and vote,” he said. “That’s not our board anymore. It’s expanding, it’s a working board, and that’s exciting.”

Niles commended Center Point and its mentors for the work they do in the lives of young people. He told the story of nine young men who grew up closely together in Hall County, seven of whom were killed by violence before they turned 50.

“When I became warden here, we would travel throughout the state to various prisons,” Niles said. “I was walking down a long corridor at Jackson State Prison, where they take all those state convicted inmates. I got closer to a guy working a buffer, shining floors there. He was No. 8, and he’s serving a life sentence today for murder.”

Niles said he is the ninth.

“What separated me from the devilry? What kept me out of trouble?” Niles asked. “Good folks like you all involved with Center Point. I recall day after day going to Center Point, going to a place that I felt loved. Young people today need to do but two things: Get Christ in their lives, and get a mentor.”

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