REACH mentors make positive impact on at-risk children in Houston County schools

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

From a young age, Master Sgt. Shane Flot understood the benefits of having a positive role model in life.

The Staff Sgt. Felicia R. Rivers Airman Leadership School commandant at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, lived in a foster home during his early childhood before being adopted by his parents.  

“My parents supported me and instilled in me the values I hold today,” he said. “I wanted to have the opportunity to pass along those values. I felt that it was part of my duty, and it could help me continue to grow as well.”

In July 2017, while stationed at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Flot decided to pay it forward in life and became a mentor through the Raising Educational Achievement for Children in Houston County Program, commonly called REACH, to help at-risk children.

Renee Daughtry, School Liaison Program manager in the 78th Mission Support Group at Robins, said the REACH Mentoring Program is a collaboration among Robins members, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Houston County School District.

“Team Robins members are authorized 45 minutes of excused absence in conjunction with their lunch hour once a week to go into the school and mentor their ‘little,’” she said.

Additionally, mentors are authorized four hours of excused absence once a year to attend the annual REACH picnic at Robins with their mentee.  Workload permitting, civilian REACH mentors and picnic volunteers may be excused no more than four hours to attend the event, however, Daughtry said military and civilian mentors must have their supervisors’ approval to attend.

The program is offered in five elementary schools located close to Robins.

When mentors volunteer, Big Brothers/Big Sisters conducts a background check and provides a mandatory training session, Daughtry said.

“Mentors must commit to work with their students for the entire school year,” she said. “Many of these children do not have a role model in their lives, and they need to be able to count on their mentors to be there for them. Many mentors follow their students from one year to the next until they are promoted to middle school.” 

Daughtry said by investing one hour per week with their students, mentors help at-risk students improve academic performance and school attendance, reduce disciplinary problems, and improve their self-worth.

“Mentors concentrate on reading and math, while also serving as positive role models to the students,” she said. “They help children focus on the importance of schoolwork and show the students that someone cares about their well-being. Mentors provide praise and support in other ways to help students realize their potential.” 

REACH mentoring began between Robins AFB and Houston County School District during the 1997-1998 school year.

“In the early years, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center Contracting Directorate had 60 volunteer mentors in the program each year,” she said. “Since that time, we have had civilian and military mentors from all over Team Robins. At our peak in 2015, Robins had nearly 180 REACH mentors.”

Daughtry said with many REACH advocates leaving the base for different reasons, as well as the negative impacts of COVID-19, the number of REACH mentors at the base has dropped significantly. 

Robins civilians and military members who are interested in becoming a REACH mentor can contact REACH Program Director Mickell Gooden at 478-998-4183 or by e-mail at to get the background checks and training processes started.

Flot and his mentee, 17-year-old Cory, a junior at one of the county’s high schools, have enjoyed outdoor hikes, played sports, watched movies, and attended a few college football games during their mentoring journey.

“I provide Cory the opportunity to have conversations about life, as well as his personal goals,” he said. “I believe that through my involvement as a mentor, he came out of his shell and became more outspoken.” 

Flot is currently helping the teen develop a vision and plan for his future.

“This is an excellent opportunity to make a positive change in a child’s life, as well as allowing for personal growth,” he said. “People don’t realize how much of an impact can be made by simply dedicating time to spend with a child in need. I believe that more people should become volunteers, because you never know how your beliefs and perspectives can be a positive influence on a child’s mindset. By volunteering, you may develop a unique connection that helps that child to flourish.”

The noncommissioned officer said the REACH Program helps strengthen and unify the community as well.

“It may seem overwhelming at times, and it may be difficult to find ways to connect at first, but I truly believe that mentoring is worth it,” he said. “It’s difficult seeing some of the situations that these children face. At the end of the day though, you can make a difference.”