A hero is someone who voluntarily sacrifices to help others.
Heroes come in all forms, be it a single mother, a superhero in a cape or a soldier in uniform.
Such was the message of retired Lt. Col. Oliver North as he addressed a crowd of nearly 400 people gathered Tuesday for the Futures for Kids Gala benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
North, a decorated war hero, television host and author was the keynote speaker at the 13th annual event at the Gainesville Civic Center. He is renowned for serving on the National Security Council in the 1980s and for his 22 years as a marine officer, during which time he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for valor and two Purple Hearts.
“The title of this evening is ‘be a hero,’” North said. “... A hero is someone who puts themselves at risk, who sacrifices something of themselves for the benefit of others. That is what’s so important this evening.”
North shared video, pictures and stories of military heroes and remarked on the support and formation the military provides young people.
He said his message Tuesday was about the “mess” being left for young people today.
“When you think of the challenge a single parent — usually a single mom — with youngsters faces, it’s incredibly difficult,” North said. “Perhaps the thing that is most important that Boys & Girls Clubs are doing is providing a safe haven for that youngster who is going to get a mentor, a role model, an example of commitment thanks to the generosity of the community.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County serve more than 5,500 children ages 6-18 every year, with 86 percent of the youth served coming from economically disadvantaged homes.
“Every day, 600 kids come through our clubs,” said Steve Mickens, chief professional officer. “Every single day, Monday through Friday, 600 kids … So any time you donate to the Boys & Girls Clubs, you’re a hero. Any time you volunteer your time for the Boys & Girls Clubs, you are a hero.”
The clubs presented the Helping Hands Award at the gala to a club alumnus, Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough.
“Jerome Yarbrough is proof the Boys & Girls Clubs work,” said Abb Hayes of the Board of Directors.
The gala also featured several youth served by the clubs, including Jayla Williams, the 2015 Youth of the Year, and Donavan Moss, an alumnus of the clubs and sophomore at the United States Air Force Academy.
“The Boys & Girls Clubs taught me how to lead by example and show young kids that there is so much more to this world than just small Gainesville, Georgia, and there is potential in everyone,” Moss said. “Everyone is great at something, whether it is singing, dancing, writing or even speech. You just have to find that one thing.”
Williams spoke about the loss of her father and the support she received from the Boys & Girls Clubs since she became a member at 6 years old.
“It was something that I knew wouldn’t drop out of my life, even when my dad did,” Williams said.
North commended the youth, the club staff and all those gathered Tuesday for their support of young people today.
“I get to keep company with heroes,” North said. “And so do you, who are supporting Boys & Girls Clubs.”