March 29, 2014

For some, mentors ‘the only constant’

Local Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates 45 years of service

By Christopher Smith
christophersmith@daltoncitizen.com

— Cate Goins said that when she was 8, her mother — who struggled with depression — couldn’t get out of bed and cope with daily life. Then one day, Goins said, her mother tried to kill herself.

“My parents had just gotten divorced,” she said. “My mom struggled greatly after it. Within a year of the divorce, she tried to kill herself — many times. She never mentally recovered. Even to this day. She is still just broken from it.”

Goins, who now lives in Knoxville, Tenn., spoke early Thursday morning at the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 112 off Glenwood Avenue during an event highlighting 45 years of mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Georgia Mountains. The organization, based in Dalton, connects volunteer mentors to children in need of adult guidance who live in Whitfield, Murray and Gordon counties.

Goins said the organization “saved” her.

“It was a little over 22 years ago. I was in first grade. I was matched with Kim (Vance) and she was just there through everything,” she said. “Every difficult situation that I ever went through in life, she was there. It changed my life. She was just amazing.

“We just hung out every Wednesday night. We would do homework. But it turned into traveling, camping trips, going out West for two weeks, taking me to college football games, all kind of things. It was awesome. She was the only constant in my life.”

Rashad Curtis of Marietta, whose mother Esther works at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, said he was reluctant to get a mentor through the organization roughly 20 years ago. At age 8, he said, he “knew everything.”

“I really thought I knew it all,” he said. “The mentor thing, it wasn’t something I was interested in becoming a part of. There was a lot of hesitation. I was embarrassed. Seeing that my mom thought I needed a mentor was, for an 8-year-old, embarrassing. But now I know my mom was making the right decision.”

Curtis, now in his 30s, was matched with Scott Sandlin, who currently serves as the vice president of the organization.

“Home was fine,” Curtis recalled. “My mom was always there, been there since day one. I just needed a male figure in my life. My dad wasn’t around, so Scott came in and kind of took that role, mentored me, taught me to become the man I have become today.”

Sandlin said making sure children get the right mentor is not easy. Even though Thursday morning was a time of “celebration,” he said, he hopes the organization “becomes even stronger.”

“It takes so much time and talent to make sure we’re doing it the right way,” he said. “We’ve been here 45 years and that’s what we are celebrating. But, really, what I want to say is that we need to be even stronger at 50.”

Sandlin thanked the United Way of Northwest Georgia for financial support through the years.

“We have always been one of the largest recipients of United Way funds and that has been the backbone of our agency,” he said.

Curtis said he is proud to see Sandlin still working hard for the organization.

“There are so many memories I have with Scott,” he said. “Just going to football games. The time he spent with me. I could go on and on and on about it. It was just mainly the support, coming to my basketball games, all the little things. After the first couple of months, I realized the impact it was having on my life, in terms of school and my outlook. Good things started happening. It really made a difference.”