OK for Youth shows that gifts come in many forms


The room at the Paper Mill Grill in East Cobb was overflowing recently with seasonal good cheer as OK for Youth mentors and their spouses talked with their teenaged mentees. Many of the at-risk teens were dressed in suits and festive attire, ready for a special dinner and a message from one of their favorite speakers Al Duncan. Al is a genius at keeping his young audience laughing and attentive, while delivering a poignant message, not easily forgotten. His intensity, he says, comes from his own life experience, which strengthens his unique connection to youth.

This special Christmas Dinner was the 7th for Opportunity Knocks for Youth. The organization of some 25 mentors works with at-risk teens. The job they do does not provide immediate gratification and includes disappointments along the way, but to those special individuals who consider it their calling, it allows them to give back in a very unique way.

An OK for Youth mentor for eight years, Charlie Edwards has seen his mentee Marcus through high school and has supported him as he makes his way into the adult world. Marcus is working while studying to become an EMT. The optimistic young man attends every Christmas dinner to see Charlie even though he must travel some 25 miles. Marcus openly shows his affection for his mentor with a small Christmas gift chosen especially for Charlie.

Even though new mentors like Danny Quillen and Wayne Farr do not share the experience Charlie has acquired, they show great enthusiasm for the support they can give. Wayne, who is vice president for the Global Walmart Team for Coca Cola Refreshments, travels often. He partners with Danny to co-mentor. "Danny and I 'tag team' our time in working with our mentee, Casey," Wayne said. "Like everybody else I have a lot of priorities but I make OK for Youth one of my top priorities." He says that a Bible verse in Matthew inspires him; “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.&rdquo “Our mentees are good young men, "Wayne says, "who have found themselves in a tough spot and are seeking to improve their situation by participating in OK for Youth. During our monthly dinners they're engaged and eager to learn."

Danny, who retired after 37 years with Delta was compelled to become a mentor after his first meeting with the young men in the program. He said that in his short time as a mentor he has learned to be a good listener. He feels that his visits with his mentee are important because they allow the teens a time to talk about their goals and direction. "I became a mentor because I wanted to be a positive influence in the growth of a teen."

Through the generosity of donors and volunteers like Danny, Wayne and Charlie, OK for Youth provides one-on-one mentoring, educational support and life/work skills programs. But most importantly the mentors work with teens from low-income families, foster care and group homes to provide hope as they build trusting relationships. Their shared goal is to empower young people to complete their education and become self-sufficient citizens.

High school graduation is a significant accomplishment. “Less than 20% of foster children graduate from high school,” Executive Director Dale Champion said. “This year OK4Youth participants celebrated a 75% graduation rate with many pursuing higher education.” Preparation for the workforce is another objective of the program when higher education is not the young person’s choice.  

The program partners with Mt. Bethel U.M.C., Cobb County Department of Family and Children Services, and Cobb County schools. For more information please contact Dale Champion at 678-641-1968, dchamp50@aol.com, or www.ok4youth.org.