By Tyler Roush
For the Opelika
For 45-plus years, Project Uplift has provided role models to the children of Lee County.
The program, with a goal of deterring children from delinquency by providing a positive connection with volunteers, honored its senior volunteers Tuesday morning in recognition of National Mentoring Month.
Six awards were given to current volunteers and volunteer teams that have been with the program the longest.
Program coordinator Chris Nunn, who said that a majority of volunteers come as students from Auburn University, added that volunteers help children move down the right path.
“Our purpose is to help kids make good decisions, healthy decisions, that are going to be beneficial to them and their community,” Nunn said, “and to also help them feel good about who they are despite their circumstances and their environments that they grow up in.”
Since the program’s establishment in 1973, more than 9,300 volunteers and children have been paired together, with nearly 600 people in the program in 2016. In its lifetime, Project Uplift has served in-county children ranging from 5 to 12 years old.
For Nunn, representing the efforts of the program’s mentors allows for the representation of the program’s success.
“It’s always a wonderful privilege for us to take time out of our year to say ‘Hey, we appreciate what you do for our program,’” Nunn said.
Sadie Argo, a senior at Auburn University and the school’s most recent Homecoming Queen, was given the Cindy & Mike Reinke Award alongside fellow senior Sam Sturdivant as the program’s longest lasting male-female team. The pair joined the program in the summer of 2016.
Argo, separate from her time with Sturdivant, established a scholarship at Auburn University for any former child of the program who wished to attend.
While having the ability to bring a child away from circumstance, volunteers have the ability to change the lives of the children beyond the length of the program.
“Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, ensures them that they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges and makes them feel like they actually matter,” Nunn said.
As the namesake for the Tom Westmoreland University Award, given annually to a university organization or individual that has served the program with distinction, Westmoreland added that volunteers are positive influences on the community as a whole.
“[The program] represents a lot of time and love that they give to the community,” Westmoreland said.