After a year of focusing on growth, The Mentoring Alliance is taking time to celebrate one student, one mentor, one teacher at a time.

“Celebrate the One” was the theme of the organization’s annual luncheon, which was held Tuesday at Green Acres Baptist Church CrossWalk Conference Center in Tyler.

“We serve thousands of kids in this community and beyond,” President Kevin East said. “Today we’ll celebrate one.”

East leads The Mentoring Alliance’s three ministries, which serve thousands of children in the Tyler area. Over the past year the organization has seen big growth in its Gospel Village mentoring program, Rose City Summer Camps and Boys and Girls Club after-school programs.

East said it is important to remember that the organization serves many children who are struggling and may not always feel loved or invested in.

“We believe every child is worth it,” East said. “Each and every child. The Gospel compels us to move toward them.”

He reminded volunteers and supporters to slow down and remember the mission, and focus on living life with the families they serve. East said that this year he wants staff and volunteers to celebrate every success or victory, no matter how seemingly small.

“We want to share life with every child we serve,” he said. “We’re not the hero, we’re not the savior, but we are available and God can use us.”

This year the organization chose to celebrate one mentee, who made a significant impact not only on her mentor’s life but is already beginning to impact the community in her own way.

Gospel Village Director Kilton McCracken said the organization looks for several areas of growth in mentees, including vibrant faith, academic success, emotional resilience and life readiness.

McCracken said 15-year-old Aletris West is a shining example of those qualities. Aletris volunteers at every opportunity, from gospel choir to staying late to clean the buses after volunteering at Rose City Summer Camp. She already is planning her future, intent on attending the University of Texas at Tyler in a few years.

“She’s going to graduate high school and be ready to go into the community and be a productive citizen,” he said.

She and mentor Deanna Sims wrote letters about the impact they had on each other’s lives.

“Many times when I am introducing you to my friends, I explain that even though I am your mentor, you have taught me so much,” Sims said.

Aletris said although she was nervous at first, she has grown so much and was grateful for Sims’ guidance and help making her family proud.

East said their relationship is a model of “sharing life together.”

The organization also took a look at the results seen over the past year.

The Boys and Girls Club has grown to 21 locations in Tyler, Whitehouse and Bullard and as of this week serves 1,350 students daily. East said he expects to see that number peak at about 1,450 by March.

Thanks to a boost in Tyler ISD’s legislative funding, written in to the state’s education funding overhaul by Tyler Rep. Matt Schaefer, the district will be able to allocate funds to outside academic summer programs. This extra funding will allow Rose City Summer Camp to double its locations and operate at four Tyler ISD middle schools, with the addition of Hubbard and Boulter middle schools.

East said the biggest need the organization has is for volunteers and staff across the three ministries.

To close the luncheon out, board member Josh Ungerecht announced he would be matching every donation made or committed at the luncheon.

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Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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