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'Legacy of dedication' honored
Mentor Me celebrates 10 years
mentor WEB
Brian Criste shares his experience volunteering with Mentor Me North Georgia during a celebration Tuesday at the Forsyth Conference Center. Criste was named mentor of the year by the group, which celebrated its 10th anniversary. - photo by Jim Dean

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Mentor Me North Georgia is always looking for caring adults to serve as mentors and for financial support. For more information, visit or call (678) 341-8028.

Like many, Brian Criste is busy with work, home life and friends.

But he also takes time to be a role model to a boy through the Mentor Me North Georgia program, which matches children with caring adults who spend time with them.

Criste was honored Tuesday morning during the Mentor Me 10th Anniversary “Magic Moments” breakfast at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

“The secret of this is that it’s fun stuff,” Criste told the audience of about 200 after receiving the Mentor of the Year Award. “You get to rebirth your inner child.”

The program began as a project of the 2002 class of Leadership Forsyth, a nonprofit program that teaches rising leaders about the community. Since that time, Mentor Me North Georgia has assisted nearly 775 children.

Lynn Jackson, chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors, called the Mentor Me “a legacy of dedication of Forsyth County leaders.”

She said the program was born out of desire to help children in the community. It stemmed from Juvenile Court Judge Rusty Jackson, who still serves on the organization’s board.

“[Judge Jackson] said the children coming through his court were not bad kids, but in bad situations,” Lynn Jackson said. “They just needed examples of caring adults.”

With that in mind, the 2002 leadership class began a branch of Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

As the program’s needs grew, the organization was changed to Mentor Me North Georgia in 2008 in order to better serve the local community. In the ensuing years, an afterschool program for Hispanic children and an in-school career exploration group have been added.

The latter also begun as a Leadership Forsyth class project, Kick It Up! clubs in several local middle and high schools.

Lynn Jackson said Mentor Me strives to “develop meaningful friendships” between adults and children, since such relationships can have a profound impact.

She said research indicates that children involved in positive mentoring relationships are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to drink while underage. They’re also 52 percent less likely to skip school.

“They’re also better able to express their feelings and get along in their classrooms,” Jackson said. “They participate more in school, make friends more easily and are more confident.”

Lauren Anderson is proof of that.

Anderson, a senior at Forsyth Central High School who has been involved with the program since 2004, shared her experiences with her current and previous mentors.

She said they included everything from helping her with her hair and going to local stores to listening to the same music and doing volunteer work together.

“If I wasn’t a part of Mentor Me, I don’t know what I’d do with myself,” she said.

Anderson is involved in a wide variety of activities in school ranging from 4-H to Central’s drama program.

“My mentor gives me confidence to do all those things,” she said. “I believe I can do anything and that makes me feel good.”

Katisha White, mother of daughters Taylor and McKenzie Cochran, talked about the impact the program has had on them.

She called the girls’ mentors “awesome additions to [her] children’s lives.”

“I’ve seen changes in them every week,” White said. “I believe these mentors have brought them happiness, stability and a new friend.”

Also at Tuesday’s breakfast, the organization’s Donor of the Year award was presented to Tricia Welsh, a board member who has served the program since helping found it in 2002. 

Welsh said watching the program’s growth over the years has been “absolutely phenomenal.”

“To see that our [Leadership Forsyth] class project has made such a difference in so many lives of these great children, it’s almost overwhelming,” Welsh said. “Since everyone has rallied around [this organization], I know we’ll be able to make a difference for many more years to come.”