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McNair celebrates mentors and anniversary


Mentors and education pioneers were celebrated during the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation's Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon on Saturday. 

The foundation holds luncheons for its mentors often but this one was special because it was also the celebration of its 25th anniversary. 

"At 20 years we had a huge celebration but we wanted to celebrate the 25th. It's important to honor our history because it provides the pathway to our future," Monica Lee, executive director of the foundation, said. "The McNairs didn't just come in and make an investment, they have remained committed to students financially and emotionally." 

In her opening remarks, Lee said there are 191 mentors who have spent 3,829 hours working with 2,100 students in high schools and middle schools. She talked about their commitment to the foundation and asked everyone to give them a standing ovation before lunch was served. 

During the luncheon mentors, McNair board members and other educators were given a look back at the last 25 years in the form of an iBook full of interactive pictures and documents about the foundation. The iBook included the history of all of the foundation's programs and what it is doing now. 

"Robert and Janice realized education is the key to success in life and they put great value in that," Roger "Buck" Petty, a member of the McNair board of trustees, said. "They wanted to do something that encouraged kids to go to college, something that emphasized academic excellence and that taught youngsters the value of giving back to the community. Those principals are behind everything we do now." 

Petty told the mentors that the McNair Foundation provided a culture change for Rutherford County and how the mentors are the most important part because they pull everything together. 

"Thank you for giving your time to help a child be successful," Petty said. 

Another speaker for the event was Dr. Benjamin Arenkiel, assistant professor and McNair Scholar in the Departments of Molecular and Human Genetics and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Since he was chosen as a scholar, the McNairs funded his lab where he does genetic engineering in mice to learn more about human brain functions. 

"This has been an absolutely fantastic ride to me. They've (McNairs) influenced me and were willing to back intellectual property to help me see my dreams come true," Arenkiel said. 

Arenkiel talked about his path to becoming a scientist and how he would be nowhere without the mentors he had in his life. 

"I know you mentors meet with kids all the time and they might not recognize what you are doing for them will be beneficial, but they will recognize your influence one day," Arenkiel told the mentors. "I'm grateful for my mentors and I know your people will be the same way." 

Dr. Phil Dunford, one of the people who helped to get the foundation off the ground,  talked about the evolution of the foundation and how blessed he is to be a part of it. 

Dunford shared a story with the audience about a student he once mentored. He said the student was brilliant but if he had continued on the path he was headed he would have ended up as a brilliant criminal. 

"He was one of the smartest kids I saw with one of the worst home situations you can imagine. One teacher and myself took him as our challenge and we got him to a place where he could get into college," Dunford said. "It took him three and a half years to finish college and he's been in three different countries. I don't know how he'll end up but it won't be in the direction he was heading before McNair." 

Dunford told the mentors they weren't just helping students academically, they were also letting them see they are loved and important. 

"I'm thankful for everyone who built this program and I thank God I'm a part of it," Dunford said. 

At the end of the luncheon mentors were honored for their years of service. 

Mentors who have served for 15 years are Pat Hamilton, Christine Hoyle and Janice Matthisen.

Those that have served for 10 years are Bernice Kaut, Keith Price and Sharon Shipley. 

Mentors who have given five years of service are Linda Bingham, Chivous Bradley, Pam Carpenter, John Condrey, Jeremiah Council, Joy Cromer, Ashley Day, Dolly Dewberry, Grady Franklin, Thad Harrill, Laura Harris, Terry Hines, Starlyn Hunt, James Hutchins, Sarah Kilgo, Brian King, Annis Ledford, Margaret McBrayer, Lynn McDaniel, Joan McKeithan, Linwood Perry, Sophia Snee, Phillip White, Carroll Whitesides, Rusell Williams and Susan Williams. 

Other honored guests at the luncheon were Belinda Evans, Shelley Henderson, Scott McKinney, and Tami Myslinki, members of the Class of 1989 who received the first McNair Reaching for One’s Potential for Excellence (ROPE) awards. 


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Erin Kidd/Daily Courier The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation held a Volunteer Appreciation Lunceon at the Carolina Event and Conference Center in Forest City on Saturday. The event was a way to honor all of the McNair mentors and to celebrate the foundation's 25th anniversary.

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