Box: Newton Mentoring is a nonprofit that works with the Newton County School System to partner adult mentors with at-risk children.
The program has 75 mentors, but Executive Director Margaret Washington said there are many children without a mentor as more than 100 students are in the program.
For more information about mentoring, visit newtonmentoring.org, call Washington at 678-381-7948 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next mentor training class is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Turner Lake Complex, and there will be three other sessions in February.
"The relationship that has developed between John and Andre exemplifies what mentoring is all about and the positive effect it can have on the mentor and mentee. John lost his father and now sees Andre as the missing father figure in his life. Andre sees the fruit of his labor and his passion for helping young men in John," Washington said.
John won the Newton Mentoring essay contest, "What My Mentor Means to Me," held Thursday and received a $100 Walmart gift card.
John McCammon's mother was far away, his father was dead, his brother was in trouble and he was left alone in a foreign country he barely knew. He was 14.
Newton Mentoring was created for children like John. Life trained Andre Johnson for a program like Newton Mentoring.
Johnson was the oldest of eight children and had to fill the role of father from a young age because his own father worked long hours in the steel mills of East Chicago to support his family.
"It was almost like God had just charted that course for me from an early age," Johnson said. "So I became dad while dad wasn't there because that's what he told me to do. ‘When I'm not here son you make sure you look out for your brothers and sisters. All my life it was like I was surrounded by some type of leadership role."
Spending 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps was easy by comparison and strengthened those leadership traits.
John was born in an undeveloped section of Guyana, a former British and Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America. He learned English as a child, evident by his comfort with the language, but his word choice and construction reveal he's not a native speaker.
He was raised mainly by his mother, because his father immigrated to the United States. His father hoped to bring over the whole family, but his parents divorced in the mid-2000s, and John's mother didn't want her children to leave.
When his mother finally let her sons leave for America in 2007, they barely had time to adjust before John's father became ill and died less than a year later from some type of poisoning.
The boys were sent to live with their aunt in Newton County, where they struggled to adapt to a new home, school and society. Curtis was aggressive at school, while John became selfish and rebellious.
"All of that bundled up inside of me and (became) exposed," John said.
Calling all mentors
The first time Johnson saw John, he mistook him for Curtis. The boys' aunt had to correct him.
Johnson had already been a mentor for the past few years, ever since his pastor had put out a call on behalf of Newton Mentoring.
He mentored Curtis for a year before ever meeting John. Johnson's presence was a bright spot in Curtis' life and that made an impression on John, who would later ask Johnson to be his mentor too.
"There were some trials and tribulations that were going on in (Curtis') life. I think it all centered on them not having a man involved in their life. Their aunt is 72 years old and she's trying to raise two teenage boys by herself," Johnson said.
When Johnson was around the boys behaved; they were kind and respectful. When he wasn't, trouble began.
"I want you to be obedient, not just to me, to everybody. Because the word obedience means obeying rules and regulations," Johnson said.
"When you pick that up midstream it's difficult to ingrain because it's a process. It doesn't happen overnight. Its something that you have to build a relationship with and you hope and pray as time goes on that somehow, someway it gets on the inside of them. Once it gets on the inside and they realize the consequences of being disobedient, hopefully they'll walk the straight and narrow of being obedient."
A second father; a second chance
Despite Johnson's work, Curtis's aunt eventually sent him back to Guyana because she couldn't deal with his struggles. Now it was just John, and he leaned on Johnson all the more.
"To me he's like a dad because we have a spiritual connection and we talk about spiritual stuff that I need in my life. As we talk he tells me stuff, not just that I need to know for now, but that I need to know for ever...I tried to apply that to my every day basis in life at home and in school," John said. "Because I have a problem with selfishness and I hate rules and rebel to rules all the time. So that's what we worked on for a really long time.
"At first it was really hard to give up selfishness and being rebellious and attitude and anger problems. He imparted wisdom to me. He has helped me to realize it's not just all about John; it's about the people around you."
Johnson is involved. He visits John's home; he calls his aunt to check up on him. He's there.
"Thank you Mr. Andre. Thank you for everything. If it wasn't for Mr. Andre I don't know what I would be right now," John said.
Because of Johnson, John now knows where he's going too. Though his father was in the U.S. Air Force, John is choosing to follow in Johnson's footsteps.
"My number one biggest goal in the history of life is to go into the Marine Corps," John said. "The reason I want to go into the military is to give me discipline. I need discipline now and forever, because I hate rules, and going into the military I have to follow rules; I don't have a choice.
"So, I think that will break me down. You must do what is right and you don't have any other choice. And to better my life so that some day I can be like Mr. Andre and be a mentor too."