One Mentee – 15 Years Later
Over 2000 students have participated in the Clarke County Mentor Program since its inception in 1991. One decided to give back.
Kevin Epps was among the first group of Clarke County students to participate in this project. As a fourth-grader at Cleveland Road Elementary School, Ed Benson became his mentor.
Epps left Athens for college in Washington D.C. but pledged his return to Trudy Bradley, Director of the Clarke County Mentor Program. While away at college, Epps felt such strong ties to the program that he started up a Mentor Program there as well. Epps has been a mentor for about a year now, though he is still coupled with his mentor Benson, now 87-years-old. According to Epps, he began taking lessons taught to him and then teaching them to others. “Everybody needs a mentor,” said Epps, “They’ve given me so many benefits, made me a better person. It would be selfish not to give back.”
For Epps, the experience becomes way more than simply writing a check to a favorite charity, it is being in the position to help a child’s life then truly seeing a positive result.
On the fifteenth anniversary of the Clarke County Mentor Program, Bradley, Director since 1991, has not only seen the program grow but also seen the quality of character it produces.
Rusty Clifton On Being A Mentor
The Clarke County Mentor Program has been a wonderful blessing in my life. I began mentoring Westervelt Henson about 3 years ago when he was in fifth grade. At the time, he was struggling both academically and socially. Today I am proud to say that he is making wonderful grades; he is a starter on his football team and has become a leader to his peers. I certainly can’t take all the credit for his success because he is a very bright young man, but I like to think that the guidance and advice I have been able to give him has helped make him a stronger, respectful and more well-rounded individual.
The mentor program serves many purposes and not all are geared toward the mentees. One of the greatest aspects of being a mentor, one I never realized until I got involved, is that by giving back to others it has made me a better person. I feel that is the true spirit of helping others...that we ultimately become better people. It works out to be a true win-win for all parties involved and IT’S FREE!
Another great purpose for being a mentor has been that I have become much more vested in the community in which I live. This has not only helped me meet some wonderful people (volunteers, teachers, parents, etc.) and feel more comfortable where I live but has helped my business succeed. I found that I am now part of the fabric of our citizenry. I strongly encourage you to take 1 hour of your week to make a lifetime difference in someone’s life and your own.
Rusty is a real estate investor and developer. He, his wife and son live in Clarke County.
Westervelt’s Words on Being a Mentee
What I like best about my mentor.
I like my mentor because he is very nice to me. He was very friendly to me when I first met him and that is when I needed a friend the most. He has helped me with my home work and school work and taught me how to treat other people nice and with respect. He listens to me when I need to talk to someone and helps me understand my problems. He is a great businessman. He owns his own business and teaches me what he does and how he does it. He also teaches me how to work things out and solve problems using my mind.
How do you think you have changed since working with Rusty?
Since I began working with Rusty I have a much better attitude towards my friends, teachers and about life. I have learned that I have my own personality and Rusty has showed me good things about it, like how I am kind and generous, and things that I can improve on, like my temper and talents. Before I met Rusty I didn't like to work with others and I used to fight others and be by myself, but since I have Rusty I have learned to work well with others, share, help others and be a good friend. My grades used to be very bad. I did not understand much of my school work and did not understand the importance of school. Because of this, my mom and teachers felt that I needed an extra year of fifth grade. I was very mad about that, but I now know it was true. This is when I met Rusty and he has helped me to do better in school, take my time with my work and proofread my assignments for mistakes. He has also helped me to understand why it is important to not only stay in school but to do well in school so that I can have a good education. My mom has always taught me to be nice to people and Rusty has taught me to respect myself and respect others. I used to talk back and be rude to my teachers and other adults, but Rusty showed me that it does not feel good to have others be mean to me or not respect me, so now I try to be nice, respectful and helpful to my teachers, adults and my peers. One thing that Rusty has taught and showed me is to respect and thank our soldiers. Every time we see or talk to soldiers we always thank them for their service and sacrifice to our country and helping us to be free.
What have you been able to do that you might not have been able to do without Rusty's help?
One thing that I have been able to achieve since working with Rusty is good grades. I made the honor roll for the first time in sixth grade. I have also made it again in seventh grade. I am very proud of this accomplishment. Rusty has also taught me how to work hard and believe in myself so that I could become a starter on my school's football team. As a starter I have a chance to teach others and be a leader. I have also been able to successfully get several girlfriends and keep them because I have learned how to treat them nice and be a gentleman.
Rusty and I have also been able to do many fun things together that I would not have been able to do if he was not my mentor. We have been able to attend many University of Georgia Football games. We always tailgate before the game, watch the players walk into the game and cheer really loud. They have never lost a game when I have gone. We also went to a University of Georgia Basketball game, and they won! Last year he took me to a football camp where I got to learn how to be a better football player from the head coaches of the Georgia Football team! One day we went to the University Student Workout Center. I got to workout with all the college students. We did a lot of fun things that day like play racquetball, run on the indoor track, watch the diving team and we did sit-ups, push-ups, and rode the stationary bike. Just the other day Rusty taught me how to change and rotate tires using both a manual wrench and an automatic wrench. It was neat because I have never changed a tire before and I like working with my hands. He has also taught me how to properly wash a car and how engines and gears operate. Maybe one day I will learn to drive. One day while driving by the airport we saw a weird looking airplane. We went to the airport and asked what it was. It was a new airplane that the Army is using that takes off straight up in the air. Rusty went and asked one of the pilots if we could have a tour of it and he said yes. I have never seen an airplane that big up-close. One thing I really enjoy doing with Rusty is working. He lets me help him in his business and I get a chance to earn some money. I only get the money if I work hard and do a good job. He tells me I have to save some of it for a rainy day, but the rest of it I spend on clothes, candy and my girlfriend. Something that I have been able to do with Rusty that I would nothave been able to do if I did not know him is meet important people. I have gotten to meet bankers, lawyers, athletes, Athletic Directors, presidents of companies, realtors, nurses, soldiers, contractors, developers, and politicians. It is very interesting to hear about what other people do for a living.
One of the first times Rusty helped me set a goal was when I was in fifth grade. My grades were not very good and he told me that if I worked hard, studied, was nice to my teachers and did not get sent to the office that I could pick any reward for myself. I chose to take a ride on an airplane. I worked with my teachers to get passing grades and I did not get in any trouble the rest of the year. When the school year was over, Rusty took me for my airplane ride. It was great! We flew over the mall, and the stadium, and even my house!
What have you learned from Rusty?
I have learned many important things from Rusty. I have learned things like how to paint, clean, drill, blow off a driveway, pressure wash, cut trees, cut grass, build a fire and work hard. He always tells me to make sure I do a good job and to use my head, that I am a very smart person. He tells me what a good job I do and encourages me. Rusty has also taught me how to budget my money, set goals, believe in myself and in others, be appreciative, and be respectful, to be a leader and set a good example for others to follow.
What has Rusty l earned from you?
Rusty and I are the same in many ways, but we are also different in many ways. We have different backgrounds and cultures. I have been able to teach him to be patient and appreciative also. I have also been able to teach him about what things are popular with kids these days. He is a new dad and it is important for him to know how to be cool. We talk about music, dancing, and sports.
I am very happy that I met Rusty three years ago. He has taught me a lot. He has really changed my life. He cares about me, prays for me and teaches me lots of fun and important things that will help me be successful in life. He teaches me how to give to others with my mind and with the things I have. He always gives his time and money to help others. One day he had a bunch of twenty dollar bills and he gave them to me and we rode around just giving them away to many people that needed help. I had never seen someone just give money away like that and it felt really good to see the expression on their faces when I gave them the money. They were very thankful. Rusty and his wife Clare have welcomed me into their family and I love playing with Russell his new son. Maybe one day I can help teach Russell and others some of the things his dad has taught me.