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Holiday Hope: Mentorship fosters motivation for academic success
Josue Ferrel, left, and Jim Sapp, his mentor, discuss motivation for school.

About this series

Over the two-week holiday period, The Times shares the stories of those helped by local charities.

Center Point

What: Mentoring services for students in Hall and Gainesville schools
Where: 1050 Elephant Trail, Gainesville
Upcoming: Training available 6 p.m. Jan. 15, Spout Springs library, 6488 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch; and noon Jan. 27, Gainesville library, 127 Main St. NW, Gainesville
More info: or 770-535-1050

At the beginning, 10th-grader Josue Ferrel and Jim Sapp didn’t want to talk much.

“At first I didn’t know him, so I was kind of shy,” said Josue, who has been Sapp’s mentee since the seventh grade. “I didn’t really know him, so it was different. I didn’t really know what to say, so I’d let him do much of the talking.”

On the opposite end, Sapp said he tried not to dominate.

“Early on, I try not to talk too much or lecture,” Sapp said. “I’m really good at lecturing.”

Fast-forward almost four years, and it’s hard to tell.

The two became fast friends through Center Point, a nonprofit that offers mentoring for Hall County and Gainesville school students.

Josue’s mother requested the mentor after he was bullied.

“The guy would like hit me, but I wouldn’t do anything back,” Josue said. “And my mom didn’t like that.”

Josue and Sapp meet once a week, discussing soccer goals, life goals and the grades Josue wants to keep.

“I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been at this point right now,” Josue said of his academic life, having passed all of his classes at Chestatee High School. “I would have tried at least, but I guess now I try more than I would have if I didn’t have him.”

The bullying subsided quickly, with the conversations shifting more toward academic motivation.

“I stay on his rear end about his grades probably as my biggest challenge with him,” Sapp said. “We also talk about spiritual stuff and soccer and fun stuff.”

Sapp’s mentorship, Josue said, works with setting standards and goals, often with a spiritual backdrop. With both being faithful Christians, selections of Scripture provide reinforcement for their discussions on life. 

“Not many kids have the foundations he has along (with) the Christian faith, in belief and dedication,” Sapp said.

Sapp began mentoring more than a decade ago, having heard about it through his church.

“When I heard about the mentor program, it was a no-brainer,” Sapp said.

The issue for Josue is not the comprehension, they said, but more of the drive to keep pushing to do homework and projects.

“I think back then I was laid back at the beginning of the year and start trying as hard as I could at the end,” Josue said.

Sapp’s tag-team partner in keeping Josue up on his grades is Josue’s brother Rafael, 21, pushing him to stay up on his grades when Sapp is gone.

“He’ll say, ‘They’re good. I’m passing.’ And I’m like, dude, that’s not good,” Sapp said. “As smart as you are, you got to be shooting for A’s and make a few Bs.”

Sapp’s mathematical aptitude aided Josue through algebra.

“If it were maybe some other stuff, I wouldn’t have been able to help him — foreign language or sociology even,” Sapp said.

Josue’s family is musically inclined, with almost all of the 11-member unit playing instruments.

“My family is basically the band at church,” Josue said.

Josue said he hopes to continue taking honors classes with similarly strong academic performance, working on what he might want to do after graduating high school.

“I like law, but I don’t know yet what I want to do,” Josue said.

After four years, Josue and Sapp joke around with ease, a comfort built on trust.

“When you’re square up with people, your friendship grows, your relationship grows,” Sapp said. “It’s been delightful with him.”

Sapp said there is always a need for volunteers, particularly male mentors. Although some children like Josue have a strong family to support them, mentors are needed to keep kids motivated.

“That’s what life’s about: motivation,” Sapp said. “If you could bottle it, we’d be rich.”

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