Tony Patton started his day Tuesday with a big hug from Robert and Annie Hnatishion on the stage of the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
Patton, a sophomore at North Forsyth High School, presented the Hnatishions with the 2013 Mentors of the Year award from Mentor Me North Georgia during the organization’s annual Magic Moments Breakfast.
The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2002 by members of that year’s Leadership Forsyth class, seeks to match caring adult mentors to children who need extra support in their lives.
Patton was paired with the Hnatishions when he was in elementary school. For about seven years, the couple has been a big part of his life.
It’s a life that got off a rocky start, as Patton spent his first five years in and out of foster homes before being taken in by his aunt and uncle.
Patton recalled how when he was told he was getting a mentor, he wasn’t sure what to think about going to the home “of some random guy.”
“I had no idea that this random guy and his wife would be one of the biggest inspirations of my life today,” he said.
“Robert and Annie have always been willing to help me with any of life’s struggles — homework, the starting of my teenage years and, more currently, driving.
“That is one things I love about them. They are always quick to listen and never quick to judge.”
Robert Hnatishion said while the Mentor Me program is primarily about helping children, he and his wife have gained more than they ever thought possible from Patton.
“He has brought so much joy and happiness to us on a personal level,” Hnatishion said. “It’s been a pleasure watching Tony grow from a small, elementary boy into a young man who’s now in 10th grade and in the Marine JROTC program at North.
“We look forward to being there as you graduate from high school and turn into a young adult,” he told Patton. “We’ve had many happy memories and look forward to many more.”
Annie Hnatishion said she and her husband don’t have any children of their own, so their mentor relationship has been especially meaningful.
“He’s just blended right into our family,” she said. “We try to take advantage of the teachable moments with him and teach him about our life experiences to point him in the right direction.”
Also during the breakfast event, Septimus Adside, a 2013 graduate of South Forsyth High School, spoke about his experience with Mentor Me’s Kick It Up Clubs.
The clubs were begun by the Leadership Forsyth Class of 2008 as a way to encourage students in middle and high schools at risk of not graduating on time.
Through the club, Adside said he learned about a range of career opportunities and was inspired to seek post-secondary education to eventually become a police officer.
In addition, Chris Luttrell, the grandmother of one of the organization’s mentees, shared the importance of Mentor Me to families such as hers.
She said the relationship of her grandson, William, with his mentor, Ryan, has had a huge impact on the young man’s life.
“I can’t tell you what it means to William to know that there is someone who continues to support and care about him,” she said. “There is a special bond between them that can’t be broken.”
Since it began in 2002, Mentor Me North Georgia has helped more than 800 children in the county develop those sorts of special bonds to caring adults.
James McCoy, one of the organization’s board members, said involvement with the organization can truly make a difference.
“Mentor Me North Georgia is absolutely changing the world of the kids that are enrolled in the program through the mentoring relationships,” said McCoy, who is also a mentor through the organization.
“Dylan [Richardson] and I have been matched for eight years now and it is enormous fun. It’s an excuse to go do stuff you can’t really do as an adult all that often.
“Mentoring works. Mentors positively change the lives of children and that positively changes our entire community.”