Whether it's from watching preschoolers with the "gimmies" or all the reports of CEOs jailed for defrauding their companies, many have come to the conclusion that people today simply lack strong character.
But Carol and Tony Warenzak are aiming to make character education a higher priority for students and adults alike with a nonprofit they said fulfills a lifelong passion.
The Athenaeum: Center for Character Education and Personal Development will open its doors Nov. 29, offering everything from books and materials on character education to workshops for young children and parents to adults.
"We want to be a hub for character education in the Southeast," Mr. Warenzak said, adding that are few centers like The Athenaeum in the region.
Through work with schools and community, and parent and teacher education, Mr. Warenzak said he and his wife hope to target young children while they're still forming habits and opinions.
Mrs. Warenzak, who runs an interior architectural design firm, said school programs only scratch the surface of character education. She said The Athenaeum can teach children about why good character is important.
But both agreed that character education has become increasingly important for businesses as firms have watched the Enrons and WorldComs of the world come crashing down from fraud and ethical missteps.
While adults, who have already formed opinions, present more of a challenge, they can benefit from character education as they take those lessons into an improved workplace and to their kids at home - which is where Mr. Warenzak said character starts.
He said some people have misunderstood his mission, which he said is secular in nature.
"Character transcends religion," he said.
The center pulls its name from the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena. An athenaeum is a center for learning.
The Athenaeum's interior - modeled after Greek architecture with the help of local artist Russ Bonin - might remind a small child of a Harry Potter book, with torch lights and faux-marble stairs.
Shelves are adorned with everything from The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness and Raising Good Children to children's books on sharing and kindness. A coffee bar completes the softly lit, gold-toned walls.
Mrs. Warenzak said they will soon start a C.S. Lewis Society for Georgia, which will give fans of the author - who penned The Chronicles of Narnia - a chance to discuss his works and hear speakers on the subject.
The couple said they also hope to offer in-house or on-location workshops based on established programs and hold an annual summer workshop for educators.
Mrs. Warenzak, who teaches on character and public speaking at Savannah River College, said they have not decided how much to charge for workshops and other programs, but prices will only cover costs for the nonprofit.
The couple said they are in the middle of paperwork to become a nonprofit, and that the center has established a funding source from an online distributing company the Warenzaks run.
But in the end, even with their full plate, the Warenzaks said opening The Athenaeum isn't about having a business, but creating a community resource to help youth make better decisions and adults be more successful.
"It's not a business," Mr. Warenzak said. "It's a mission."
Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or email@example.com.
WHAT IS CHARACTER EDUCATION?
Carol Warenzak said most people don't understand the concept of character education. Character is more than just buzzwords, she said.
"It's the things that your mom and dad taught you - or should have taught you," Mr. Warenzak added.
And although he says the idea might seem obvious, his research shows that society doesn't put the emphasis on good character that it once did. Learning areas such as integrity, respect, humility and gratitude - and why they're valuable - can help people be successful in careers and relationships, he said.
The Anthenaeum: Center for Character Education and Personal Development
1423 Monte Sano Ave.
(866) 955-9028 (Toll Free)
(706) 855-9028 (Local)