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Students receive awards at Center Point’s 50th anniversary celebration
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Philip Elrod presents Maria Ramirez with the pioneer award during Center Point's 50th Anniversary Honors Night event in Gainesville, on Thursday, April 19, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Students consider it a privilege and honor to attend classes and receive the counseling, mentoring and prevention advice Center Point has to offer. 

The nonprofit in Gainesville has been helping students for 50 years and started off as a small idea, but now it’s one of Hall County’s most successful and diverse student- and-family-centered nonprofit organizations.

So on Thursday, April 19, students, parents, teachers and mentors gathered at First Baptist Church of Gainesville to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments over the past 50 years. Special guest speakers were on hand, and quite a few students received awards, too.

“We are here because of this ripple effect of the work of many,” said the Rev. Lee Koontz, who is the pastor at Gainesville's First Presbyterian Church. “And that continues to reverberate in many beautiful ways in this community.”

After giving the pioneer award to Maria Ramirez, a parent coordinator with Gainesville City Schools, the Pat Burd community commitment award to Violet and Jack Waldrip, with Waldrip Properties, and the mentor of the year award to Kennedy Smartt, who is involved in a few different nonprofits in the area, the students stepped into the spotlight.

“We have some incredible students, and some incredible young people and we wanted to recognize them tonight,” said David Smith, executive director of Center Point. “So if you want to know why we’ve been here for 50 years, this is it.”

One of the new teachers at Center Point, Heather Cole, made her way to the stage to talk about each student receiving an award. Cole said Bailey Becker, a 10th-grader at Gainesville High, always stands her ground. She doesn’t sit quiet because she’s in high school, but she has “a voice that rises up inside of her” that comes out and brings up things that matter.

“Taking classes here opened my eyes and it helped me think more about what I do after I leave the classroom,” Becker said. “It also made me want to get more involved in the community.”

Cole said Caitlin Pirkle, an 11th-grader at Gainesville High, has a sense of perseverance that goes beyond what she’s ever seen in a high-schooler, and she has compassion that will lead her into a successful pastoral care career.

“This is a huge honor to be standing up here and receiving this award,” Pirkle said. “I absolutely adore Center Point and the people that work there and the programs it’s provided me. I really don’t think I would be who I am without people like Ms. Cole and David (Smith) who shaped my character.”

D’Mahri Robinson, a 12th-grader at Gainesville High, received one of the awards as well. Cole said he is talented when it comes to just about everything.

“Whether it’s academically, athletically or artistically,” Cole said. “He’s wise beyond his years, and he’s engaged and cares about things that are happening in the world.”

Cole wasn’t quite done handing out awards. She had two special awards for students she said have stood out at Center Point this year.

Tyrone Goss Jr. received the integrity award.

“I started to get out of my comfort zone and started to like sharing my opinion,” Goss Jr. said. “I felt confident in what I had to say, every day I go to class.”

The last award went to Carlos Diaz. Cole gave him the leadership award because she said he always shows leadership in everything he does. 

“It’s truly an honor to accept this award for leadership,” Diaz said. “It’s a huge surprise, so thank you. And thank you to everyone at Center Point for making the Center Point campus feel like home.”

Rachel Hendrix, Anna McClendon, D’Mahri Robinson, Clay Coffey and Erika Turcios-Galves all received scholarships as well.

And those awards and scholarships are the reason Center Point exists. Smith wants to see Center Point grow and reach even more students through the education, mentoring, counseling and prevention advice it offers. He said he knows 50 years is only the beginning.

“To get it to this point, I just can’t even believe it,” Smith said. “But it’s great.”

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