Portsmouth, Va. (WAVY) — As the saying goes: One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.
Locally, there is a teacher who is continuing to change the world after his retirement. His name is Jerry Gaines and he educated students in Hampton Roads for 40 years.
Even though he retired in 2011, Gaines continues to keep in touch with thousands of his former students. Gaines is an educator who took “average kids” and loved and believed in them.
Thus, they have gone on to do amazing things in the world.
Gaines became so inspired by his students, that he published the book called, “40 Stories High.”
He wrote the book in 2011, detailing his personal stories of his former students and athletes overcoming difficulties and doing great things in the world.
His students are so inspired by him, that they are writing a book in return.
10 On Your Side sat down with Gaines and two former students. They walked beside Gaines 37 years after they walked through the doors of his Spanish class at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake.
“I call it glorious selfishness because it makes me feel better to find out what they are doing — to know that they are happy,” said Gaines.
Gaines grew up in Chesapeake.
He was the first African American on scholarship at Virginia Tech. Gaines ran track, still holds records at the college and has been inducted into the Hall of Fame several times.
Gaines is also a veteran and later became a teacher. He spent the first half of his career as an educator and cross country coach at Western Branch High School. He eventually moved up to the position of assistant principal.
“It has given me insights on the most important thing in life and that’s relationships. Teachers are in the most important environment to generate relationships, that’s what they do,” said Gaines.
Among the thousands of students Gaines inspired is Jamie Dodd, who is the owner of Dodd RV of Portsmouth.
“He had a huge impact on thousands of kids in this area including my two sisters and myself. He also had a huge impact on the staff at the schools he worked in,” said Dodd. “He has an incredible gift of encouraging high school students. One of his strengths is helping kids with the challenges they face. He truly cares about all people.
“If you notice I am not using past tense because he is still investing in high school kids all around the nation. He speaks and encourages high school students all over the nation. He also still invests heavily in his former students and athletes even though they are much older and spread out around the world.”Jamie Dodd, former student of Jerry Gaines
Dodd is emotional when he thinks of Coach Gaines and the impact he has made on his life. In high school, Dodd was severely injured in a motorcycle crash.
He broke several bones and never thought he would able to run again. However, he mustered up the courage to ask if he could join the track team — and Coach Gaines took him on.
Dodd said, “When I met him, I was hopeless, I didn’t have anything, what I had was out the window, he, a little bit at a time, started to fill my tank and give me some hope.”
Inducted into the Chesapeake Sports Hall of Fame, Dodd would go on to join a Division-I team in college.
Gaines said, “If we don’t tell them good things, if we don’t tell them that they are valuable, precious…then they will invent an identity and they’ll probably invent one that they don’t like.”
Kerri Rhodes Jenkins invented someone Gaines loves — she’s an educator and therapist herself.
“I walked into that classroom and it was the safest place I’ve ever been in my life. I think as a student I hit the jackpot. I couldn’t imagine loving someone more or feeling loved,” Jenkins Rhodes said. “After graduating, we communicated, at the time, through letters. A lot of times, they show up at the craziest times in my life.”
The communication continued for decades, including the horrible day when her son passed away after overdosing on opiods.
“He prayed with my family, he was one of the first people through the door. He was the first one to speak at my son’s celebration of life ceremony,” said Jenkins Rhodes.
Gaines said, “Sometimes they take tough hits, but by the same token, I live in the same world they do and sometimes I take tough hits too and whenever I have to take a tough hit, I know that I have a support system. So, just like they know if they take one, so we rally around each other and in essence we become a team.”
That team formed four decades ago — because of one teacher.
For Jerry Gaines, his life after teaching includes motivational speaking. He said he also enjoys days filled with fishing and family — a family that includes thousands of his former students.