For three days each July, young men in Hall County learn what it means to be confident, disciplined and driven. They learn what it means to be a leader.
Thursday, the Gainesville Jaycees Gut Check program kicked off as 47 middle school boys traveled to North Georgia College & State University to participate in a weekend of leadership-building activities.
“A lot of it I think is leadership skills and also just some accountability,” said Lincoln Griffin, program director. “Even at their age — they have to take responsibility for their actions. They have to be accountable for them.”
Friday, participants went through a ropes course at Pine Valley, following rappelling at NGCSU.
“We certainly had some that got a little scared,” Griffin said. “But everybody did do it.”
He said the boys, all local seventh-graders, would often be afraid at the top of the tower, but when they got to the bottom they were met with cheers and support from their friends. Then, they would beam.
“Obviously, for a lot of those kids, it’s the first time they’ve ever done anything like that,” Griffin said. “But once they get down the first time, they want to go again.”
Today, the group will practice their rappelling skills once again, hiking up to Mount Yonah for the experience.
Other activities include a trip to the Lumpkin County Jail, several speakers and a graduation ceremony Sunday.
The program, which began in 1997, is free for all participants and supported through the Jaycees’ fundraising efforts. Though it begins with the intensive, high-energy program in July, participants get support throughout the following year with a once-a-month visit from a mentor.
“I think it’s really important because first off, especially for middle school males, there’s a lot of development going on at that age,” Griffin said. “Some of those decisions that they make in middle school start to affect how they go on in high school, and then in high school it just keeps going and continues on with how it affects their lives.”
Several of last year’s participants came back to do the program again this year, some of them as part of a leadership team.
Griffin recalled one success story in particular.
“Last year, there was a kid who stood out quite a bit,” Griffin said. “He never went outside, never did anything. He was not physical at all and had a very hard time at first.”
But Griffin said the participant flourished as he progressed through the weekend and even into the next school year.
“Just by being through the program, his self confidence was boosted quite a bit throughout the year,” he said. “You could see throughout the year how much he had progressed, and he was really looking forward to coming back this year.”