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Gainesville Jaycees

A lesson in confidence: Jaycees’ camp teaches middle-schoolers leadership, self-worth

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By Melissa Weinman

For a few days each summer, the Gainesville Jaycees hope to make a positive difference in the lives of boys in Hall County.

That includes the annual Gut Check camp, which started Thursday at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega for 55 middle school boys.

"It's all about teaching leadership, and that life's not going to give you any freebies," said Matt Dubnik, a co-director of the camp. "You can't imagine the influence this program has had."

The camp aims to teach the boys values, leadership and self-confidence before they enter high school.

The kids spent Friday participating in a military-style obstacle course in teams, climbing, crawling and jumping their way through the Pine Valley Ropes Course. They also learned how to rappel.

"There's a lot of PT involved," Dubnik said. "They're up early each morning."

The guys also got a chance to tour the Lumpkin County Jail and hear from a gang task force officer, sobering experiences that Dubnik hopes will stay with them for years to come.

"They showed them what it was like to be an inmate," he said. "It's heavy for 13- and 14-year-old kids, but it's something they need to hear."

Gut Check participants are nominated for the program and attend free of charge. The Jaycees raise money all year to put on the camp.

"We work with principals, guidance counselors and teachers from all the schools in Hall County," Dubnik said. "We ask them to give us candidates for this program."

Saturday, the group goes to Mount Yonah to put their new rappelling skills to use. It's a fun and challenging event, Dubnik said, that takes "a lot of trust."

Campers are separated into five units that work together as teams during different activities.

But the "best of the best" from past years are invited back to be part of a sixth unit for junior counselors.

Chris Feanny, a junior counselor, said he was excited he was asked to return this year.

"It's fun to get back together," he said. "These Jaycees are like my parents, I can't leave them hanging."

Though he has a lot of responsibility as a counselor, a major perk is that he still gets to go rappelling.

Sunday marks the end of the camp with a graduation ceremony.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal and Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic will be the key speakers at the graduation program.

A special thanks to the Gainesville Times for contributing this article and these photos.

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