As a mentor, Carnes make a difference in the lives of children
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
As a mentor in the Hartselle school system, John Carnes is making a difference for young boys who don't have a male role model in their lives.
He meets weekly for about an hour each with four male students, two first graders, a third grader and a sixth grader. All are from broken homes. Three are brothers who live with their single mother and the other one lives with his grandparents.
He usually eats lunch with two of the boys one day a week and spends some quiet time with each one of them afterwards. Similar meetings are arranged with the other two boys at times when their class schedules will permit.
"Our visits are very informal; they don't follow any particular routine," Carnes said. "We sit down and I let them talk. Usually, they'll let me know what's on their minds. There are other times when they have very little to say. But it's important for them to have someone to be there to listen to them about any subject they may want to address."
Carnes said he gets regular feedback from the boys' teachers and school administrators. "I'll know it if they're having difficulty keeping up with their lessons or are causing any problems in class," he pointed out. "This enables me to look for opportunities during our visits to give them support and encouragement."
The impact a mentor can have on a child in the short run varies case by case, according to Carnes. "My first student was a really good kid and it was easy to begin building a relationship of trust with him. The student I picked up at the beginning of this school year was more of a challenge. He was not talking with his teacher. I was lucky that be began to open up to me pretty quickly and his attitude has changed altogether," he stated.
"I also know that when I have to miss a visit, they want to know where I was," he added.
Carnes said he devotes his time as a mentor because he knows there's a difference he can make. "The real payoff is going to be down the road," he pointed out. "A child that has a good role model while he is growing up will likely fill that role when he becomes an adult, and will pass it down to his or her family."
An active member of New Covenant Church in Hartselle, Carnes first learned about the need for mentors at a meeting of Promise Keepers in Atlanta, Ga. four years ago. "We were told that most juvenile delinquents wind up as prison inmates and the best way to prevent that from happening was for responsible adults to serve as mentors of at-risk children. I was struck by that and encouraged to go back home and find out what I needed to do to become a mentor."
Subsequently, he contacted the Volunteer Center of Morgan County and discovered that a mentoring program was in place and that volunteers were needed in Hartselle schools.
"Before I could be placed, I had to pass background checks by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation," he recalled. "After that was done they matched me up with a first grader at Crestline.
"We have a great school system, but we have kids from broken homes who need someone they can count on listen to them," Carnes stated. "I'd urge anyone with an hour they can spare each week to consider becoming a mentor."
A spokesperson for the Volunteer Center agreed. "Now we have about 60 men and women serving as mentors in Hartselle and Decatur schools," she said. "They are making a big difference in the lives of the children with whom they are working. The need is great. We'd like to extend the program to Morgan County schools. But before we can do that we need more volunteers."
In addition to his work as a mentor, Carnes has a full load of responsibility as a husband, father and self-employed businessman. He and his wife, Colett, have two sons, Eric, 10, and Eli, six, and a daughter, Emma, two. He also is owner and operator of Carnes Lawn Service, a business he started 12 years ago.
"I couldn't be a mentor without the full support of my family," he said. "My commitment as a mentor doesn't keep me from spending quality time with them."