Norwalk Reflector: Reach Our Youth makes call for volunteer mentors

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Reach Our Youth makes call for volunteer mentors

By JUDITH LINDER-ASHAKIH • May 24, 2018 at 9:00 AM

The Reach Our Youth (ROY) program considers summer “a good time for one-on-one volunteer mentors to begin new friendships with disadvantaged children.”

“There are 70 children ages 6 to 18 from all parts of Huron County who are waiting for someone to help change their lives,” said Sarah Simmons, ROY executive director.

Anyone age 16 and older can be a volunteer. This is a chance to make a difference in one child's life by taking time to be with them once a week, for at least six months.

Though the program is year-round, partnerships usually last several years. Simmons said some match-ups have continued for 10 years.

Helping to develop children's fullest potential can be as simple as taking a child for a bike ride, to the library, the reservoir or helping with homework.

Along with playing games, Simmons said listening and talking with a child can provide positive, safe and healthy relationships. Mentors are encouraged to spend quality time instead of money with their mentee.

“Your time is a small amount, over a life time, but time is the valuable asset here,” Simmons said.

ROY began independently in Huron County 40 years ago, when the late Judge Thomas Heydinger decided to establish it. The program is similar to the Big Brother/Big Sister organization, but is funded in Huron County through the Norwalk and Willard United Fund, Walmart, fundraisers and individuals.

Heydinger realized from his court experience that “there was a need for such a program for troubled youth, a need for a good role model and extra friend,” Simmons said. 

"The 70 children waiting for mentors are able to interact with adult mentors and their peers in group activities once a month, such as bowling or roller skating parties, summer picnics, Halloween costume parties, Bingo parties and a Christmas party. There are currently 50 adult helpers and special-service volunteers who do office-specific work, and forty youth mentors in one-on-one activities,” said Simmons, who believes simple activities enrich a child's life.

“These events help the children gain a sense of stability. It is so big to them. Kids are eager to connect with an adult who cares about them. It can have a long-term impact on their self-esteem. And they like to help out with ROY events by taking leadership roles. Many of them become volunteer mentors,” she said.

Statistically children who have mentors are 46 percent less likely to get into drugs; 59 percent more likely to get better grades and 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, according to statistics supplied by ROY.

“They are able to speak for themselves. These are extremely positive results in a community seeing a growing problem in drug use. If I could get mentors into the lives of these kids and prevent drug use, it would be fantastic for the betterment of the whole community,” Simmons said.

Some couples mentor a child as a team effort ,which provides valuable experience for both the couple and the child. In 2017, total hours recorded by all volunteers of any age was 3,239. This helped an average of about 120 kids. Seventy are still waiting for your attention.

ROY has a thorough application process for adults and teenagers, including two references, a background check, and fingerprints. A driver's license is required in order to pick up the child three or four times monthly. There is an interview and orientation process. Mentors and mentees are matched as to who would best fit each others' interests.

Anyone can refer a child to ROY, but the child must live in Huron County. Both the child and guardian must desire to participate in the program. Forms must then be filled out to place the child on the waiting list. There is no charge for the program. Mentors or mentors can call 419-663-2525 to reach Sarah Simmons and to request applications.

“Since the kids in our community will affect our area one way or another,” Simmons said. “With two hours a week, we can all hope to be positive influences for them. Love, care and attention go a long way.”

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