June 5, 2014 --
Several Marines and educators from local schools were honored for their participation in the Mentors in Action program during a luncheon held at the Town and Country Restaurant’s Grand Ballroom, here, May 28.
Staff Sgt. Juana Snell, M.I.A. founder, hosted the event.
“The purpose of the luncheon was to thank the mentors and educators for all they have done (to make the program a success),” Snell said, who is the equal opportunity adviser for Marine Corps Logistics Command. “The (schools) welcomed us with open arms and I am very gracious and thankful for that.”
Recognized for their efforts were educators from International Studies Elementary Charter School, where the M.I.A. program started in 2012; Southside Middle School and Radium Springs Elementary School. All schools are located in Albany, Georgia. Marines representing Marine Corps Systems Command and Marine Corps Logistics Command were honored as well.
Snell presented a plaque to each school representative during the luncheon.
According to Snell, the M.I.A. program allows Marines and civilian-Marines to go to local elementary and middle schools and volunteer with one class throughout the school year.
The mentor donates one hour per week with the purpose of being a positive role model for the students, she said.
Snell announced the following M.I.A. accomplishments during the recent school year.
* The program has expanded to two more schools including Southside Middle School and Radium Springs Elementary School.
* There were 34 mentors including Marines, one civilian-Marine and members of the Albany State University Global Ambassadors program. ASU is located in Albany, Georgia.
* More than 680 students, collectively, were mentored.
* The Marines have volunteered nearly 320 hours to mentor children.
“Hopefully this (program) will inspire not only Marines, but people
in the Albany community to take ownership of their community,” Snell said. “(These) children are the next generation, the next workforce and future doctors, teachers and leaders of the world.
“If we don’t take an invested interest in them, who will?” she said.
Snell concluded by saying “thanks for allowing us to be there and trusting us with your most precious assets, your children. I am so blessed and thankful to have been stationed here. I often tell people I chose Albany, Georgia, but really, Albany, Georgia, chose me.”
Col. Don Davis, commanding officer, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, applauded Snell’s accomplishments.
“I think the progress we are making in the schools, and these types of partnerships, is just phenomenal,” Davis said. “I think there is a bright future ahead for Albany. We have got to keep the momentum going, we can’t let it falter.”
Speaking to the Marines, Davis said, “you are lifetime mentors, not just Mentors In Action or in Dougherty County. Take your experience and share it wherever you go.”
Dr. Zeda George, head of school, International Studies Elementary Charter School, said more students are now reading.
“We have to give a lot of that credit to the Marines who have come in and read to our students and let them know reading is very important,” she said.
George said Snell has been very committed to her program.
“We did not have a choice to embrace it because she believed in it and made us believe in it,” George said. “She has been a beacon at our school because she genuinely cares.
“Not only did she give her time, but encouraged other Marines as well to do the same and give back,” she continued. “She is a classic example of giving back and so are the Marines.”
Master Sgt. William Tolleson, procurement chief, Contracts Department, LOGCOM, said he is a mentor because he gives back to his local community no matter where he is stationed.
“When I (attended) the orientation, (I knew) this was for me,” Tolleson said.
This was Tolleson’s first year as a M.I.A. mentor and he was a volunteer in Mariha Nelson’s kindergarten class at International Studies Elementary Charter School.
“When I met her and the children, I instantly fell in love,” he said. “I made a point to go there for at least an hour each week.”
Tolleson said he liked it so much he volunteered to assist in another class.
“For me, walking into the class and seeing the smiles on their faces brought back a lot of memories of when my children were young and (when I) volunteered in their classroom,” he said, “It’s an inspiration to see those children and see how you changed their lives.”
Tolleson recalled a time when the students were studying foreign countries.
“I have been to a lot of places during my time in the military so I was able to (help them),” he said. “I also brought foreign money so they can physically see and touch it.”
Tolleson encourages other Marines and offices to join the program because “you will not only be helping the community, but you will inspire as well.”
Snell never imagined the M.I.A. program would have flourished into what it is today, she said.