Rappelling down a mountain, ziplining across a river and crawling through a muddy obstacle course are not typical weekend activities for most middle school boys.
Yet that is exactly what 56 seventh- and eight-graders are doing this weekend at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.
The Gainesville Jaycees provide an annual free weekend boot camp-style program for boys called Gut Check. The boys are taught leadership skills using military principles. Participants are selected through their schools.
“What we ask for, when we go to the counselors, is not necessarily anyone who is bad or in trouble,” Gut Check director Lincoln Griffin said. “We say, ‘who can you give us that would benefit the most from the program?’”
Gut Check activities include rappelling down a mountain, obstacle course racing, ziplining and hiking. Sunday morning, the Jaycees will hold a graduation celebration.
Gainesville Jaycees created Gut Check in 1997 to teach boys communication and leadership skills that will help them succeed in school. The program has grown over the last 15 years and is now able to invite boys from all seven Hall County middle schools.
Griffin said many of the boys show improvement in their grades and school performance. He said the boys learn “how to work together to accomplish goals that otherwise they didn’t think they could accomplish.”
Aaron Eloen, 14, and his battle buddy, Kyree Willis, 13, have been together through the entire weekend. As battle buddies they are not allowed to leave each other’s side.
Aaron said the two are having fun and are like brothers for the weekend. While they have enjoyed being teammates they found they didn’t agree on everything.
“I liked rappelling. It’s awesome, it was exciting,” Aaron said.
Kyree said he felt differently about rappelling from the 30-foot tall tower on campus.
“I was a little bit nervous,” he said.
Kyree conquered his fear and was excited about the scheduled hike to the top of Mount Yonah, where the group will rappel down the rocky slope of the mountain.
When the Gut Check weekend is over, the follow-up program begins. Program leaders have lunch with the boys once a month at their schools.
“I just kind of follow up with them, see how they’re doing in school and make sure they stay out of trouble, just continue the relationship that starts here,” Griffin said.
Juan Soto, 14, is back for a second year at Gut Check. This year he is in a leadership position as a member of “sixth squad.” It is his job to help and encourage the new recruits through the intense weekend.
He attributes his success at school last year to his involvement with Gut Check.
“Before I came here I got C’s and I got in trouble, but whenever I went back to school after Gut Check, I finished the year with straight A’s and I’ve had no problems this whole year,” Juan said.