Mentor Rallies Community to Raise over $180K for Boy Who Lost Entire Family in Fire: ‘I’m Grieving with Him’

A man in Athens, Georgia, is showing his young mentee the power of a strong friendship during a time of tragedy and loss.

When Zac Hendrix was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia four years ago, he was matched with Taeden Johnson through the Clarke County Mentor Program that pairs college students with elementary and secondary public school students, KHOU reported.

At the time, Taeden was eight-years-old and Zac was 20.

“He was in the third grade, I was magically paired with him, and I’ve had a best friend ever since,” Zac said of the little boy.

Posted by Zac Hendrix on Saturday, January 30, 2021

In the beginning, Zac had lunch with him a few times a week at school, hung out with him during recess, and also helped him with homework.

He eventually qualified to participate with Taeden in activities outside of school with the supervision of the mentor program and his family. Zac also took him to college basketball games, the mall, and church.

“Ultimately he became a best friend to me, and also in reverse to him. I was always there for the whole family, we’re all best friends, we’re all in this together,” he stated.

When a fire destroyed Taeden’s home on Wednesday he survived, but firefighters were unable to save his mother, grandmother, and younger sister.

He is now living with his other grandmother and experiencing immense grief and shock.

“I’m grieving with him, we’ve cried this whole week with his family,” Zac explained. “Each day that I’ve been with him, the past two or three days since the tragedy, he is like, ‘Zac, can I just talk to you about what happened,’ like he is just wanting to release it.”

Zac later created a GoFundMe page to support the 12-year-old and help prepare for his future.

“Please keep this family in your prayers and know the people affected by this are closer to God than ever before,” he wrote.

As of Sunday afternoon, the page had raised $188,263 of its $500,000 goal.

Zac is thankful for the donors and called the Athens community a special place, adding, “You know, our backgrounds, what we believe in, our skin color, all that goes away. I mean, we’re here to love each other.”

“And I think America needs to do a better job of just loving each other, being a friend, being supportive … simply giving a text or calling to say, ‘Hey, look, you okay?'” he concluded.


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