Norwalk Reflector: 'Bright, wonderful' leader of ROY program retires

'Bright, wonderful' leader of ROY program retires

Cary Ashby • Aug 31, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Kathy Noftz did her college internship for the local Reach Our Youth mentoring program. She later became the executive director.

On Wednesday, she retired after working for Huron County Juvenile Court for 34 years. Noftz, a 1979 Western Reserve High School graduate, had been the ROY executive director since 1990. ROY is a mentoring program that matches volunteers with youth and children ages 6 to 18.

“I started with juvenile probate court. Most of my time has been spent with ROY,” Noftz said. “I’m originally from the Wakeman area.”

The ROY circle of life will keep going. Sarah Simmons, a mentor for the last 3 1/2 years, will be the executive director. She was the information and programs manager for the Norwalk Area United Fund for slightly less than five years.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. Where I was from, you had to be 18,” said Simmons, referring to volunteering with ROY. “I love the kids. I have the time and I wanted to give back.”

Noftz, of Huron, earned her associate’s degree in human services from Bowling Green State University.

“I just had a desire to help people; that’s where my heart was,” she said. “Youth grabbed my attention.”

While attending the main BGSU and Firelands campuses, Noftz was an intern for the Huron County ROY program.

“I was the first intern they ever had,” she said.

Noftz has no immediate plans after retirement, but she wants to spend more time with her husband Steve, their grown children and two grandsons.

“It just felt like the right time in my life to step down. It’s good for the program to change things up,” she said.

What about ROY?

The late Judge Thomas Heydinger started the Huron County ROY program in 1978. Although it is part of juvenile court, ROY receives some funding from the Norwalk and Willard United Funds.

“Judge Heydinger loved the concept so much, he pushed to get one started (here),” Noftz said.

Currently, about 35 youth and children have mentors.

“Those numbers are down. Our referrals are up. There’s about 80 kids from across the county who are waiting (for mentors),” Noftz said.

“Anyone can refer a child to the program. However, a parent or guardian has to be on board and fill out the paperwork. … We get referrals from many different resources. Often time (someone) spoke to the parent beforehand.”

Noftz was asked what has been the most fulling part of overseeing ROY.

“It’s really the one-on-one mentoring. You really see the differences in the lives of these kids when they have that good, one-on-one time with really good role models,” she said. “I think you can have a good influence on their lives.”

Simmons and Noftz said the keys to being a great mentor is seeking out the child’s interests, encouraging them, being interested in the child, honesty and “being yourself.” 

“These kids need a little extra attention or guidance to help them on the right path to adulthood,” Noftz added. “It benefits both the child and volunteer.”

One of the success stories is Willie, now an adult, who was in the ROY program starting about age 8. 

“He and his mentor still stay in touch. They’re good friends,” Noftz said. “He knows his mentor’s kids. His mother stayed with him when he graduated from high school.”

Anyone who is interested in being a mentor is encouraged to call 419-663-2525.

Mary Ann Lamb, director of the court-appointed special advocate program, worked with Noftz for many years.

“I know a bunch of the volunteers who are upset she is leaving … because they will miss her. They can’t imagine the (ROY) program without her,” said Lamb, who works in the office next to Noftz’s.

“She’s been a bright and wonderful face of the program.”

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