JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At 92 years young, Charles Walker, "Chuck" as many call him, has a lot of accomplishments under his belt, including 32 years as a Navy pilot.
“I retired in 1977 from the Navy and worked at Jacksonville University for about 15 years and then I retired again,” Walker said. “Take Stock in Children is one of the best things I've ever done.”
Laird Kovacs, an eighth-grader at Fletcher Middle School, is the fourth young man Walker has mentored through the Take Stock in Children program.
“If they stay in school and graduate, they get a scholarship, and I do my best to keep them in school and get them to go on to college," Walker explained. "I don't do anything except be their friend. I'm not to be their parent. I cannot meet them anywhere but the school."
As a result of the pandemic, instead of meeting weekly at school, Walker and Kovacs now meet online through Zoom.
“It's difficult sometimes for a 92-year-old to engage with a 14-year-old in a meaningful conversation, you know that," Walker said, "but since I have 14 grandkids and 15 great-grandkids of all ages, I'm a little familiar with talking to kids. You can ask them some searching questions and they'll answer you if you ask them the right question.”
It's a friendship Kovacs and his parents value and appreciate.
“It’s very helpful having someone to talk to, having someone other than just your parents who are usually under a lot of stress and work and having to do a lot of stuff around the house,” Laird Kovacs said. “It's usually nice to have someone to talk to and clear your mind about.”
“I’ve always believed it takes a village to raise kids,” Shawna Kovacs, Laird Kovac’s mother, said. “It's a very nice blessing, and it helps us out … It’s so refreshing and nice to have someone else who has that time to focus on Laird and Laird only.”
Sharing his wisdom, and his time with a younger generation is something Walker plans to continue to do.
“It’s a lot of fun, and in other people's cases and mine also I get a great source of satisfaction out of thinking I'm doing something worthwhile," Walker said
The high school graduation rate for students in the Take Stock in Children program is 61% higher than their at-risk peers. More mentors are needed. It only takes an hour a week during the school year. In return for your time, the student you're matched with gets a two-year college or vocational school scholarship and they're also matched with a college success coach. You can apply online to mentor.