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'Somebody who cares': Mentors look forward to helping students
Center Point has 250 active mentors in Gainesville, Hall systems
Mentor Luther Giles visits with Chicopee Woods Elementary fifth-graders Kevin Cervantes, left, Angel Chirino and Steven Durham, right, all 11, Friday morning in the school's gymnasium. Giles has been mentoring students at the school for seven years.

“The younger, the better,” Jerry Lewis said about students to mentor at Gainesville Exploration Academy. He works with a fourth-grader.

Fifth-graders are a good age, Luther Giles said. He works with three boys a year at Chicopee Woods Elementary.

“I try to talk to them before they get in trouble,” Giles said. “I prefer not to go to jail to talk to kids.”

Both men work with the mentoring program through Center Point, a local nonprofit that provides education, counseling and mentoring services to students and families.

Center Point has about 250 active mentors, said Marie Davis, director of mentoring. The organization works through the Hall County and Gainesville school systems and Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County.

Center Point recently recognized its mentors and their service with a dinner. David Smith, the executive director of Center Point, said the group trained more than 150 mentors in January.

Lewis and Giles both emphasized just being around the children — “hanging out,” Lewis said.

“A lot of times it’s just a matter of somebody sitting down and talking to them,” Giles said.

Both men were involved in mentoring programs in other areas and joined Center Point when they moved to this area.

Lewis, who is retired, worked with a mentoring program in White County. He is in his third year as a mentor in Hall County.

Giles participated in a program in Delaware, where he worked with Cargill. He is a refinery operator for Cargill and became involved with the mentoring through his job.

The mentors meet with the students once a week.

“I look forward to every Wednesday,” Lewis said.

Giles said he talks to teachers, and “they let me know what’s going on with each kid.”

Both men said they play games with the students and seek out their interests. Lewis said his fourth-grader is “very interested in dinosaurs.”

Lewis said the younger students are more likely to want to have a relationship with an adult. “It’s not as cool” to be with an adult when students are older, he said.

“I think I’ve gotten more out of it than I’ve given,” Lewis said. Watching the students grow, he said, is alternately hilarious, humbling and gratifying.

His student asked him once what he does, Lewis said. He explained he usually gets up, has breakfast, reads the paper, works the crossword puzzle, checks the stock market and exercises in the afternoon.

“You don’t do much, do you?” the boy commented.

Jarod Anderson, director of learning supports for the Gainesville schools, said it is important to children “to just have somebody who cares enough to sit down and say, ‘How’s the day going?’”

Davis said Center Point always seeks more mentors and donations to the program.

“Your time is very precious to a child,” Davis said.

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