While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many disappointments, one Middle Tennessee nonprofit wanted to be a light during this time for five high school seniors from across the South by providing a memorable experience in lieu of a graduation ceremony, including one graduate from Summit High School in Spring Hill.
The team at Narrow Gate, an organization from Williamsport, Tennessee, that focuses on mentoring young men and helping them find their identity through teaching Scripture and craftsmanship, chose five graduates who inspired them and brought them to a workshop for one week to create a handmade acoustic guitar with Luthier Grant Batson, the founder of Batson Guitar Co. and the director of artisan education at Narrow Gate.
Bill Spencer, who founded Narrow Gate with his wife Stacy, shared that graduation is one of many memorable landmarks in one’s life, and when he saw that it was being “snatched away” from so many graduates based purely on uncontrollable circumstances, he and his wife wanted to create a different memorable moment for a handful of young men who aligned with the core values of their organization — devotion, growth, selflessness and community.
“We just tried to find five guys who exemplified those core values and take a week and say, ‘Circumstances of life might not have been everything that you wanted them to be right now, … but we just want to take a minute and say somebody notices. Somebody’s watching, and we want to hold you up as members of our society that deserve honor,’” Spencer said.
One of those young men is 18-year-old Gabe Sipos from Thompson’s Station. He's a childhood cancer survivor who has helped his family run a nonprofit program called Gabe’s Chemo Duck, which seeks to provide comfort to children fighting cancer.
He explained that when he was going in for his first treatment, his mom brought a stuffed duck along, and he wanted to see the doctors treat the duck first so he would better understand what was going to happen. Now, the Gabe’s Chemo Duck program focuses on education and play therapy for families going through the same battle.
“We get a ton of emails and letters about how much that changes just the entire dynamic of cancer treatment because it not only helps kids understand but it also allows parents to take back some of that power in the hospital,” Sipos said.
After losing his father to cancer, Sipos decided he wanted to dedicate his career to the study of cancer treatment. Next week, Sipos will begin studying radiation technology at Austin Peay State University.
“Right now, I would really like to go into dosimetry, which is the study and application of radiation in order to treat cancer,” he said.
Spencer shared that not only does this young man exemplify Narrow Gate’s core values, but Sipos is also an inspiration to him.
“This is a guy who has faced difficulty none of us would ever want to face or have anyone we love … face, but the truth is, Gabe has used that difficulty to form a platform of service that he’ll exercise for the rest of his life that will make him a heralded member of any community where he exists,” he said. “That’s really what we wanted to honor. This is just a gift from Narrow Gate to them to say, ‘We stand in awe of who you are.’”
Upon finishing his own acoustic guitar, Sipos will add it to his electric and bass guitars and experiment more with the instrument as he learns more about the evolving technology in cancer treatment in college and grad school.
To learn more about Narrow Gate, visit NarrowGate.org.