OK for Youth graduates know the value of trust


The annual holiday dinner held in December for teens and their mentors in the Opportunity Knocks for Youth program featured emotional testimonies from teens. Three recent high school graduates of the eight-year-old nonprofit’s program focused on the value of mentoring. “Since I first met him five years ago, Mr. Charlie has been really interested in me,” said 21 year-old Marcus Johnson of his mentor Charlie Edwards. “I trust him.”

Marcus and the other graduates, Terry and Shannon related circumstances of growing up in foster care, with ever-changing adult role models or the lack of a father figure and resulting difficulties with trust in adults. Edwards and the other mentors, Frank Harris and Steve Gunning changed that for their young charges. Shannon spoke from his heart to the mentors and teens about his mentor Steve. “I know I can always trust him,” Shannon concluded “I love him.”

The 22 foster teens, many decked out in coats and ties, and their mentors enjoyed dinner at the Paper Mill Grill in East Cobb and heard more about trust from guest speaker WSB-TVs Jocelyn Dorsey, director of editorials and community affairs. Dorsey expanded on the concept of trust as one of the characteristics necessary for success.

The seven-time, Emmy award-winning journalist and first female African-American television anchor in Atlanta told the young people attending that trust is essential for moving forward with others. “Respecting others is very important, being an honorable person is very important,” she said, “but people have to trust you.” She said that you must make it clear to everyone that you will do what you say and you do that by following through with every task. “When people trust you,” she continued, “they will depend on you for the important things.”

Through volunteer mentor relationships the program focuses on the importance of education and responsibility for foster and other special teens. The organization offers monthly workshop/dinners, cultural field trips, service projects and inspirational speakers in addition to the highly successful one-on-one mentor relationships.

In addition to the speaker, the volunteer of the year award was presented to mentor Frank Harris. “I am so surprised by this award,” Harris said, “I feel like every mentor in this room deserves it as much as I do.” His mentee Terry, who graduated from high school in the spring and hopes to begin college soon talked about the importance of Frank in his life as a father figure and a friend.

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.  

“We are not as large as a Boys and Girls Club,” said Champion, “but the size of our organization has a lot to do with its success. The close-knit community we have built of some 25 mentors and our at-risk teens creates a kind of comfort zone for these kids.” Although the OK mentors include some women, most of them are men, adding an additional value to the lives of the youth, whose foster parent and group home staff are often predominantly female.

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.