OK Volunteer tells his story


One of East Cobber Sam Smith’s regular stops on his volunteer circuit is an Atlanta homeless shelter. “I had a dream one night that one of our OK4Youth (Opportunity Knocks for Youth) teens was a client there,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen, that‘s why I take OK4Youth so seriously.”

Smith is one of more than 20 men and women who mentor Cobb County foster teens living in group homes through a volunteer program called Opportunity Knocks for Youth. The program aims to bring a new perspective on education and responsibility to these special teens through personal relationships. Smith and his “mentee” 20-year-old Deontae Lyons have enjoyed a four-year relationship that includes holiday dinners, bowling, golfing, running errands, workshops, and lots of talking. “I believe that if a mentor shows genuine, consistent care for his mentee, it can make a great difference in both their lives.”

“Mentor relationships are the most significant part of our program,” said OK4Youth Executive Director Dale Champion. “The volunteers offer one-on-one support to these teens as we focus on personal responsibility, positive attitudes, financial literacy, conflict management, and giving back,” The five-year-old Opportunity Knocks for Youth program partners with Cobb County Department of Family and Children Services, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church and Cobb County schools to provide an innovative approach to support at-risk youth. The teens, with mentors at their sides, take part in educational, cultural and career-related activities that provide new perspectives and insight. “Less than 20% of foster children will graduate from high school,” Champion said. “This year OK4Youth participants celebrated a 75% graduation rate with many already pursuing higher education.” Preparation for the workforce is another objective of the program when higher education is not the young person’s choice.

Listening is very important to the 20-year old Lyons, who has his sights set on a degree from Kennesaw University. He felt that one of the most important things Smith did in their relationship was to listen. “We talked about my goals and he would ask me what was going on,” said Lyons. “He didn’t try to change me, he stuck with me, he was positive and he took me as a person. That’s why our relationship is so strong.” At the recent OK4Youth school-year kick off, someone joked about Smith’s lack of talent on the court. “He might not be able to slam a volleyball,” Lyon’s said, “but he’s a great mentor.”

When he began as a volunteer, Smith asked why Champion never tells a mentor when to stop mentoring. “I now know the answer,” Smith said, “it’s never.” He believes that he and Lyons have gone far beyond a mentor/mentee relationship to become best friends. “We see each other at least every two weeks, and that will continue forever,” he said. Lyons agrees, “I don’t know why it would ever end, there’s just no reason.”

Lyons has officially graduated from the OK4Youth program and is in his final year at Chattahoochee Tech. He still attends many OK events, sometimes as a speaker.