When he was a student at Gainesville High School, Rusty Anderson took as many Christian education classes as he could.
"I pretty much fell in love with the place," Anderson said of Center Point, an organization dedicated to strengthening students and their families.
On Thursday, local residents gathered at First Presbyterian Church to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Center Point.
Anderson said that the organization gave him the opportunity to take classes during school, analyze his faith and see what he really believed in.
"I can look back at my life and really say sincerely that Center Point had a huge impact on who I am now," he said.
The organization has seen much growth since it began in 1967.
Four local Gainesville churches — First United Methodist, First Presbyterian, Grace Episcopal and St. Paul United Methodist — worked to establish an organization that would give students the opportunity to voluntarily supplement their public education with classes in Christian education.
In 1969 the Christian Education Centers Inc. opened its doors to the community.
Upon graduation from the University of Georgia, Anderson got a job as an instructor at Center Point, an experience he said has been very rewarding.
"It’s not just a job. It’s not just a career path," Anderson said. "It’s who you are."
Over the last four decades the center has expanded its ministries beyond Christian education to include
counseling, alcohol and tobacco prevention and mentoring.
In order to reflect its broad field or services, the organization changed its name to Center Point in 2003.
Center Point counselor Carleen Newsome was first introduced to the organization last year as a counseling intern.
As a graduate student at North Georgia College & State University, she was required to complete 600 hours of counseling services, which she did through Center Point.
One student stands out in her mind, a young girl sent to her last year after fighting and showing aggressive behavior.
In working with the student, Newsome was able to identify underlying issues and help her work through them.
"I really saw her transform," Newsome said with tears in her eyes.
A large component of Center Point is its mentor program, which began in 1994.
Kennedy Smartt first got involved in mentoring when a Center Point counselor spoke to the senior citizens’ club at Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church, where he attends.
"I realized that there was something that I could do," Smartt said.
Smartt mentored 10 boys in five different schools last year, and currently serves as a mentor to six boys.
He said he often gets approached by boys in school wanting to know if he is a mentor. When he says yes, they ask if he can find a mentor for them.
Smartt says he enjoys every day he gets to spend with the kids he mentors.
While he may not succeed with every one, each one he does succeed with is enough to make it worth all the time that he’s invested.
"Would I do this again?" Smartt asked. "You bet I would. Mentoring has become one of the most meaningful things I have ever done in my entire life."