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CLINE: Program gives GCPS students role models

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

We all have someone we look up to. On Monday at Chateau Elan Golf Club that point was made both literally and figuratively.

At a golf fundraiser for Gwinnett County Public Schools' Community-Based Mentoring Program, two of the participants were former NBA stars Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone -- friends of Andrew Toney, who is an instructional coach for the program.

It was the first time James Rayford, a big sports fan, got to meet Erving and Malone. Rayford, director of academic support for GCPS and coordinator of the mentoring program, said it was a thrill to meet them but an even bigger one to raise funds for the program that is on its third year.

"It was quite a treat to meet them," Rayford said. "We had a good time out there (and good fellowship). It was a mixture of school system and community people."

The money raised from the golf tournament -- which included 17 teams and 64 players -- will help fund a field trip for students and their mentors this spring. The group will travel to Huntsville, Ala. to tour the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The mentoring program identifies middle school boys who may need a mentor for various reasons and pairs them with men from the community who have gone through a training program.

"It could be a student struggling behaviorally or a student struggling with self-esteem," Rayford said. "(The students) come from all walks of life."

The program, which began in January of 2009, is on a voluntary basis. And once a student is paired with a mentor, they spend at least an hour a week together and also participate in Saturday workshops, which are held once a month.

"It's for students and their mentors, and it teaches everything from responsibilities, how to interact with adults, team-building exercises and how to set goals," Rayford said. "And then at the end there's always a sporting activity like basketball, checkers or chess."

Throughout the week, Rayford said mentors spend time with students in various ways. Sometimes they'll eat lunch with them at school, other times they'll accompany them to a school event. About 100 mentors have gone through the training program and 86 are paired with students.

"The mentors have been very supportive," Rayford said. "Many come back for a second year and many of those are working with the same students.

"It's rewarding to see students say, 'Yes, I could use a mentor,' and "Yes, I can benefit from this.' And it's neat to hear the mentors say 'I learned as much from the student as he learned from me.'"

Rayford lauds Toney, a former NBA star himself, with helping shepherd the program. He said the two of them are "bonded at the hip" in what they want to accomplish with the mentors and students.

If interested in the program, go to the GCPS website -- www.gwinnett.k12.ga -- and click on the mentoring link down the left-hand rail. After some training, you too could be someone the kids look up to.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.