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Mentor Me celebrates mentors of the year
Mentor me
Jennifer Jones, left, was awarded Mentor Me’s one-on-one mentor of the year at a celebration breakfast on Tuesday morning by Allison Gaines, the group’s one-on-one program manager. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Each year, Mentor Me North Georgia provides an opportunity for local students to meet a mentor to help them navigate school and other difficult portions of growing up, but this week, it was the mentor’s turn to receive some attention.

On Tuesday morning, Mentor Me hosted a celebration breakfast, where they named mentors of the year, the community partner of the year and heard from members of the organization. 

Established in 2002, Mentor Me has worked to serve students, with one-on-one mentoring, after-school enrichment programs, group mentoring, monthly club meetings and partnering high-achieving students on their path to college, including them receiving a scholarship.

There were three categories for Mentors of the Year: Julie Brennan for youth; Barbara Contreras, Addy Ostrowski and Akshita Kunala for reach; and Jennifer Jones as one-on-one.

Jones was awarded for working for seven years with her mentee, Ann, who she started mentoring in sixth-grade and is now a senior in high school.

“She’s just become a part of our family, really, so much so that everybody in my family asks about her,” Jones said in a video shown at the ceremony. “Our relationship started with me visiting her in school. She loved to do crafts, so every holiday we’re making stuff.”

While Jones was present to receive her award, Ann has since moved out of the county, with Jones still making about an hour drive to see her. There was also a video from Ann talking about what their mentor-mentee relationship meant to her.

“Hey Jenny, I just wanted to say congratulations for winning the Mentor of the Year award. If anyone deserves it, it’s you,” she said. “You’ve helped me through some of the hardest patches of my life. You’ve been there when I needed you most. You’ve helped me set and achieve my goals … if it wasn’t for you guys, I probably would have never made it through high school. I would have probably dropped out or something.”

In addition to Jones, Contreras, Ostrowski and Kunala were selected as the reach mentors of the year for their efforts as high school students to reach younger students in the after-school program.

Elisa McConnon, program support for grades K-5, said she was only planning to select one of the three for the award, but the decision was too tough.

“I started looking for which one had that extra sparkle that helps me say, ‘OK, this is the one,’” McConnon said. “It was so difficult that I didn’t pick one, I picked three, and I hope next year I have enough time to pick six or maybe 10, who knows.”

During the ceremony, Browns Bridge Church was also chosen as the group’s community partner of the year.

“For the past three years, they have funded at least one of our Kick it Up clubs each year, helped us invest in promotions to increase our visibility in the public eye, invested in a truly – and I cannot tell you how much – truly operation-changing database, and this past year, invited us to [partner in the] Be Rich campaign, which resulted in 20 people contacting us to be mentors,” said Sylvia Cardona, Mentor Me executive director.

For more information on Mentor Me, including how to volunteer or enroll a child, go to MentorGa.org.