When local leaders gathered together to start the Take Back Polk program as mentors for Cedartown and Rockmart Middle School students, no one knew what to expect.

It was a wholly new endeavor connecting youth who needs the extra guidance and knowing that a stable adult in their lives cares about them and their future, with those who can act as good examples for budding teenagers.

After months of getting together, trips to the Polk County College and Career Academy campuses in Cedartown and Rockmart and more, it was time for the first group to come together one more time before the school year’s end.

Commission chair and Cedartown Middle School educator Jennifer Hulsey said that in her estimate, the goals she set out to reach with Take Back Polk’s first year went well beyond any expectations she had.

“I’m just humbled, and I’m so excited that these kids get to see that someone cares about them in the community and wants to be a part of their lives,” she said. “There’s been little steps along the way in their progress. I’m excited to see what the future holds for them.”

Progress for the students in the program isn’t measured only by their grades or disciplinary record. For Hulsey and others, it has been their attitude that shows her the program is making a difference.

“I think just seeing them walk down the hall with a smile on their face, where I used to see them with a sad, ‘nobody cares look on their face,’” Hulsey said. “They’re reaching out to people, and make an effort to do things they wouldn’t normally do. That’s shows me it is making a difference.”

Hulsey, who formed the program with the help of Sam Branch and got the help from the Polk School District administration to get it in place in the two schools started with mentor selections in August 2017 and moved on from there with monthly meetings between students and mentors.

Those mentors and their students gathered together for a gradation ceremonies at Cedartown Middle and Rockmart Middle on May 1 to celebrate as the calendar winds down for the 2017-18 school year.

At the events, Linda Liles from U.S. Rep. Tom Graves office also stopped by to present Hulsey with a letter of thanks from Tom Graves, along with letters thanking each student for their participation in the program and congratulations for being the first class in Take Back Polk.

Also on hand was State Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) who told students that what they’d accomplished was something big, because they set a bar for every class to come behind them.

He also inspired them to continue to work hard in the years to come as the first students continue on with their mentors into year two of the program starting in August.

“All the mentors will be coming back as well, I can’t think of a single one who said they don’t want to work with the same kid,” Hulsey said.

She said the program will be taking on new students this coming fall, and is also looking for those in the community who might want to serve as a mentor to take part as well.

Those interested in becoming a mentor in the Take Back Polk program can contact Hulsey by e-mailing her at jhulsey@polkga.org.