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'Whiz Kids' are here and expanding to help others

Photo by Pete Skiba

Photo by Pete Skiba

ALBANY, Ga. -- They are out to make a difference in the world one hour a week, one child at a time.

Members of the "Whiz Kids" organization told Exchange Club members at their Friday lunch meeting how they mentor first- and second-graders who have slipped into failing, both socially and academically.

"Not one of us can change the world on our own," said Lee Don, the group's organizer. "But we can go one-on-one with the same child and change the world one child at a time."

The volunteers in the organization work through various church groups and six schools to help students with their academic work. More importantly, Don said, they are there to support the children in their growth as people.

"We help; we encourage the children to believe in themselves," Don said. "One of our volunteers stayed with a failing child for four years. (The student eventually) came running at him with a piece of paper in his hand. He was on the honor roll."

Last year, 32 students were mentored by volunteers, 28 passed the state mandated Criterion Referenced Competency Test and 10 were on honor rolls at their schools.

One "Whiz Kid" volunteer, Gene Goldsmith, told the Exchangites how the mentoring experience touched him.

Goldsmith said, "I always thought that somebody should do it. I never knew who that somebody was."

It turns out a pair of child's eyes that looked up at Goldsmith while he was visiting a mentoring session convinced Goldsmith he should volunteer.

"Those little eyes looking at me didn't have someone to help them," he said. "I'm not an educator. I don't teach a lot of math and reading. But I can be there to give him someone to lean on."

In a community that has a large number of single-parent families or homes where both parents work to put food on the table, a child needs that someone.

Goldsmith said there were the proverbial two sides of a coin to what can become of a child. On one side, a smart child who feels no one cares about him goes on to hold up liquor stores. On the other side, a child with someone there for him could go on to run a business, be a lawyer or make other contributions to society through his life.

The volunteer/mentor experience also seems to have enriched Goldsmith's life and that of other volunteers.

"When I talk to other volunteers, all they can talk about is their student.

There is a bond that forms," Goldsmith said. "We can't help everyone, but if we can help one or two or three, it is worth our time."

To volunteer in the "Whiz Kids" program, individuals are encouraged to call Don through Covenant Presbyterian Church at (229) 436-5731.

Always volunteering, Exchangites will be out ringing bells for the Salvation Army at the Albany Mall's main entrance from opening to closing today.