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Mentors: Making a difference in Newton County for over 10 years
Bruce Fernandes and his mentor, Andre Johnson.jpg
Newton High junior Bruce Fernandes and his mentor, Andre Johnson

COVINGTON, Ga. – January is National Mentoring Month in the United States. According to the National Mentoring Partnership’s website, the organization’s vision is "that every young person has the supportive relationships they need to grow and develop into thriving, productive and engaged adults.”

Newton County’s mentoring program, Newton Mentoring, Inc.’s vision statement puts it more succinctly.

“NMI’s vision is to change the community, one child at a time.”

Program Coordinator Ruth C. Banks said her organization was founded by Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Horace H. Johnson Jr. in 2008 to provide support for children K-12 in the Newton County School System. She said every school in NCSS is involved in the program.

Banks said students have to be enrolled in Newton County schools to participate. She said referrals to the program can come from parents or Newton County teachers, principals or school counselors. She said referrals can also come from DFACS and juvenile court.

“Our program is trusted by parents of the mentees to provide quality mentoring to their children,” Banks said. ”The program mission is infused with a duty to build and strengthen the character and competence of children and youth which will build leadership abilities and hence, their ability to succeed during their school years and beyond.”

Banks said NMI works with a variety of students depending on a child’s needs, including high achieving students who need quality time with an adult other than a parent or guardian. She said NMI has a waiting list of students who need a volunteer mentor.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Andre Johnson is a volunteer mentor. He explained how he got involved.

“I had just retired from the United States Marine Corps and I heard my pastor talking about getting involved and helping our youth within the community in terms of mentoring,” he said. "At that time it was Margaret Washington, she was the executive director of the program. I went over and sat down and had an interview with her. I went through some classes and actually became a mentor.

“As you well know, there are a lot of things happening with our youth, both good and bad, so we try to assist them in the areas of setting goals academically, actually working with them if they need it.”

Johnson mentors Newton High School junior Bruce Fernandes. Bruce said the mentoring program can be helpful for some students.

“There are a lot of kids out there who think, ‘Hey, I can’t do this by myself’” he said. “There are people like this who want to help these kids and they put together programs like these to help a lot of students and a lot of children to grow up and to know what they want to do with themselves in life.

“Sometimes people need that push even if they’re not asking for it, even if they’re not aware.”

Johnson said he and Bruce try to get together at the school every Friday. The former Marine said he wants to help the AP student and section leader in the Newton High band achieve his goals.

“Sometimes, you can dream it and maybe you can even have it as a goal. But sometimes, you need that extra push in order to get you to that goal,” he said. “Otherwise it only becomes an unrealized dream. You never reach out to try to achieve it.

“So you try to instill some guidance, some direction and some motivation and make them believe that they can do it. I’m trying to plant that seed and allow that seed to mature. It’s that kind of relationship. But not every mentee needs the same thing. Each mentee needs something different.”

Bruce said his mentor has helped him as he starts looking toward his future.

“He’s given me good pointers,” he said. “To be honest, before, I didn’t really have an idea of what colleges I might want to go to. Now that he’s come along I’ve started to think that I do actually need to start choosing soon.”

Asked what he would say to adults who think they have nothing to offer, Johnson said you do and get involved.

“If you are an adult and you are dealing with a kid - whether they're in high school, middle school or elementary school - the things that you’ve actually done in life and the experiences that you’ve had and you’ve been a parent or a grandparent, there is absolutely no way that you don’t have anything you can offer a child,” he said. "Every child needs help at some juncture in their life. You just have to sit down and figure out exactly what they need.

“Do they need it academically? Do they need it socially? Do they need goals and dreams? One of the things I’ve found with a lot of our youth today, unfortunately, is that they don’t have any goals or dreams or aspirations. They live from one day to the next day without ever realizing what the future holds for them. And there’s no way you can live life like that. You have to be able to dream again, you have to lay out goals and move toward them.

“One of the things I share with other parents and mentors is let the starting point be where you’re laying out goals and dreams and aspirations. What do you want to do in life? It’s about him or her finding what they want to do in life and then you assisting them in whatever area you can assist them and pushing them down that path because they are the future. So let’s invest in the future.”

Bruce added, "Another thing that kids should really know about is that mentors don’t just help figure out what you want to do in life. They can also help you with things in your normal life. If you need a father figure, a mentor can be there. If you need a mother figure, a mentor can be there.

“If there’s like a goal that you have, a mentor can be there. If you need emotional support, a mentor can be there. If you’ve had the worst incidents of your life, a mentor can be there. If you have something bad that’s happening you can even reach out to a mentor and they can even get you help. So it’s like, don’t be afraid to reach out because there are people out there who will spend their time to care for you.”