Diane Jackson has encountered siblings, strangers and waves of students coming together during the eight years she has offered her Young Men of Honor program at Spencer Elementary School.
"It doesn't seem that long,'' said Jackson, a teacher at Spencer. "I've seen children grow up from babies to, now, grown young men.''
During the after-school group's meetings, fourth and fifth-grade members receive mentoring, direction and advice from community leaders that has become the foundation of balanced lives and still-developing futures.
"They've gone on to do great things,'' Jackson says of her club's former members. "They are now in college. I have one that's at Oklahoma State, I have three or four at Savannah State, some at Savannah Tech.''
Four years ago, when WTOC first introduced viewers to Jackson, her program, like her students, was still young. As of today, she has worked with more than 200 children and now gets help doing that work from those who have benefited by it in the past, including Savannah State student Jarod Jackson.
"The organization actually molds you into becoming a young man before you basically even know what becoming a man even is,'' said Jackson, who remains close with Jackson and Young Men of Honor. "I still try to interact with the students around the neighborhood that I stay in and the neighborhood that the organization was started in as much as possible.''
It's a continued connection that Jackson says is common for alumni of the group.
"They want to come back and talk to the young men, to tell them what it was like when they were coming up,'' said Jackson. "They want the young ones to know that they can make it. So they come back and they give their hand in what their strength is and they reach back and strengthen somebody else.''
Young Men of Honor still receives no public funding.
The club relies on the proceeds from Jackson's baking to fund trips like the one they took to visit the Georgia General Assembly two weeks ago. Members of the group also sometimes receive scholarships in organizations such as the First Tee of Savannah, where Jackson's students stand out.
"Their shirts are tucked in, the handshakes are firm, the eye contact they make when they do that,'' said Pete Chaison, a member of the First Tee board of directors, who frequently attends Young Men of Honor meetings. "They all have goals, they all get good grades. I respect each and every one of these kids.''
And respect remains at the center of Young Men of Honor, in everything they're taught and including the self-respect that shows up in every lesson today's members take away from their meetings.
"I learned to do your best in school,'' said Kevin Olinde, a Spencer fifth grader.
"And to listen to your teachers and get a great education,'' added Rahn Cody, a fourth grader at Spender.
Those and other lessons have been taught in room 30 for eight years, by the woman who has given her time and her heart, and who now knows perhaps her organization's most rewarding milestone might soon arrive.
Because, three years from now, Jackson could have one of her alumni walk into a Young Men of Honor meeting with a college degree in his hand to show the students in the group then.
"Oh, that would be so good,'' she says. "I think I would probably cry through the whole thing. But it would be so exciting and that's what it's all about.''
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