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Gainesville Jaycees

Jaycees hope to impart life lessons with Gut Check program

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A Gut Check candidate prepares to rappel off a tower on the North Georgia College and State University campus in Dahlonega.

July 17, 2009
By Morgan Lee Editor

GAINESVILLE -- Parents paused for a final goodbye and even a few hugs; their sons pulled away, most revealing nervous smiles or worried grimaces.

It looked like the start of just about any normal summer camp, but Thursday afternoon’s scene at Gainesville High was the start of anything but your average camp -- and if any of the boys in attendance held such thoughts, they were quickly erased when ordered to form three straight lines under the military-like guidance of counselor Tom Denny.

Welcome to Gut Check 2009.

Every summer since 1997, the Gainesville Jaycees escort a handful of Hall County youths to the campus of North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, and, over four days, attempt to provide candidates with a base on which to build successful lives.

“It’s a leadership training program,” Gut Check co-director Matt Dubnik said. “The program is designed to teach kids to be assertive, be leaders, how to stand up for themselves and how to make a difference in the community.”

The parents dropping their sons off on Thursday hoped for exactly that.

“Our son’s got strong values, but sometimes he struggles when he’s challenged to do the wrong thing by some of his friends,” Patricia Vaughn said of her son, Travis, a student at East Hall Middle School. “He knows the right way, and this program will give him the support he needs to make the right decision.”

The Jaycees impart these lessons by putting Gut Check candidates through challenging team-building exercises and confidence-boosting trials.

Broken into squads, youths will tackle ropes courses, learn to rappel -- climaxing with a journey down the face of Yonah Mountain on Saturday -- all under military-like precision and supervision.

“This program is not for the best or worst kids out there, but it’s for kids that are recommended for the program by their school counselors and principals,” Dubnik said.

Adding to their experience is the fact that each candidate must use manners and respect at all times. Every attendee is issued a laminated “creed card,” which they must wear on a lanyard and states:

“I am a Gut Check candidate.”

“I will obey the rules and orders of my leaders, parents and teachers.”

“I am committed to excellence and fair treatment to all.”

“Integrity and determination will forever guide my actions.”

“I will proudly uphold the Gut Check traditions of leadership and teamwork.”

According to Radcliffe Feanny, a father who sent Christopher, 16, and Jordan, 12, to the program last season, those statements have taken on real meaning for his sons -- whom he sent back to the program this year, as junior counselors (known as “sixth squad” members).

“There has been a total attitude change since they went last year,” Feanny said. “They have a lot more gratitude for what they have, and they have been more assertive. They’ve put themselves in leadership roles and not just been followers. We’ve also had a lot of positive comments from their teachers [at Chestatee High and Middle] about how much of a positive change they’ve seen.

“And they loved the program and wanted to come back, and we think very highly of the program.”

Kathy and Scott Cantrell hope their son, Davey, a 13-year-old at East Hall Middle, undergoes a similar experience.

“We hope he gains a more positive attitude,” Kathy said. “And gets some more self-esteem.”

“We also want him to gain some more discipline,” Scott added.

Living on the campus of a military school certainly aids an infusion of order, as do some of the counselors, who have connections to either North Georgia or the military.

“A lot of guys who founded this have a military background,” Dubnik said. “They stay in the barracks there, and we feed them in the chow hall there.”

The program will culminate with a graduation ceremony on Sunday at the Gainesville Civic Center, to which parents and family are invited.

A special thanks to Access North Georgia for contributing
this article.

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