By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in the Florida Times-Union
For three years, Johnnie Golden has made his way through the chaotic waves of adolescents at Fort Caroline Middle School to sit down with his mentee, Bailey. As a United Way of Northeast Florida Achievers For Life mentor, Golden helps Bailey focus on doing well in school.
It isn’t all work. Golden and Bailey love bantering back and forth, teasing each other about responsibility and forgetfulness, but the results have been clear.
“My grades were mostly D’s and F’s before,” Bailey said. “Now there are a few A’s and B’s, maybe a C.”
Golden said Bailey, the oldest of three, loves to talk and really needed someone to listen to him. With both parents working varied schedules, Bailey needed that extra attention.
United Way, along with mentoring partner Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida, deliver just that through Achievers For Life. The initiative provides someone who will listen to and mentor middle-school students, helping the mentees stay on track to graduation. Golden hopes to continue mentoring Bailey through high school, helping him achieve his current dreams of being a gamer or serving in the military.
“I tell him he better learn his math and science then,” Golden said.
Golden, who grew up in the North Springfield area of Jacksonville, wishes he had growing up the encouragement he tries to give Bailey.
“I didn’t have a father to do things with me,” Golden said. “My father didn’t think I could do anything right. If I brought him a glass of water, there’d be something wrong with it.”
Frustrated with life at home, Golden joined the military at age 17.
“I spent 29 years in the army all over the world, [including] Vietnam,” Golden said. “I’ve seen kids that have it really hard. There are kids here that have it hard, too, who just need an adult friend to help them, encourage them.”
After retiring from the military, Golden returned to Jacksonville, working with the Department of Labor. After retiring three years ago, he found himself at loose ends.
“I saw a television ad calling for mentors and said, ‘I can do that,’ ” Golden said.
Golden has jumped on the opportunity, now not only a United Way Achievers For Life mentor but also involved in Guardian Ad Litem and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office crossing-guard program.
“I have to have something to do,” Golden said. “I love to help kids; I love to be around them. There are a lot of kids who still need mentors – having you as a friend, seeing them grow, helping them go in the right direction. That’s its own reward, and it’s a lot.”