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Commander Helps Polish 'Jewels' Shine

By Kevin Stabinsky/USAG Fort McPherson

CONLEY, Ga., April 27, 2009 - One aspect of education is to expand a child's vocabulary, but April 16, a dozen girls from Jewell C. Anderson Elementary School in Conley were encouraged to decrease their lexicon.

"You need to take 'I can't' and 'I won't' out of your vocabulary," said Col. Deborah Grays. "You can be anything you want to be."

Grays, U.S. Army Garrison commander, visited the Anderson Jewels as part of a mentorship program with area schools. Despite her duties, Grays said mentoring children is one of the most rewarding and important, especially for the fourth- and fifth-grade girls she spoke with at Anderson.

"This is the most important age we go through," she said, describing the time as a melting pot. "A lot comes together here. This is where we pick up our habits and attitudes. The values you pick up now stay with you and will probably continue through the rest of your life."

Grays made it a key point in her hour-long visit to stress the importance of a positive mindset, noting that success was "all about attitude."

To highlight her points, Grays spoke of her own childhood growing up in the small town of Roseboro, N.C.

"I came from humble beginnings, across the railroad tracks in a row home," she said. "My step- father was in the military and my mom worked in a tobacco field and picked cotton."

Despite the meek start, constant travel as her stepfather transferred from base to base (Grays said she was never in the same school for more than two years) and her difficulty in retaining information taught in school, she was still able to get a good education due to hard work, dedication and desire to never disappoint or bring shame to her mother.

She reiterated that her education and the exposure she picked up traveling were the keys to her current and future successes.

Having someone like Grays, a 25-year Army veteran who came from humble beginnings, visit was important because many of the children come from low-income families, said Chanel Logan, a counselor for Anderson Elementary School. Anderson is classified as a Title 1 school, meaning a high percentage of children from low-income families attend.

"Col. Grays embodies all the qualities we strive for," Logan said. "We believe they (the girls) can accomplish anything."

The students have shown such ability through their scores on the Georgia Department of Education criterion-referenced competency tests, causing the school to also be classified as a distinguished school, having shown adequate yearly progress for each of the past seven years, Chanel said. The school also took four teams to the county social science fair.

"A lot of people have a hand in your life because they see you have potential," Grays said. "Stand strong and be focused; don't be distracted by others."

Besides avoiding distraction from others, Grays advised the girls to avoid comparing their success to someone else's.

"Success is what you want it to be. It's different for everyone," she said. "You don't fail if you take the first step."

Grays expressed a continued desire to continue the mentorship program with the Anderson Jewels, which meet twice a week to teach the girls about leadership, provide role models and encourage growth, even offering to host them at her home.