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‘Kids really need the mentors’

By JUDITH LINDER-ASHAKIH • Sep 9, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Mason Canalos, a 12-year-old boy in the Reach Our Youth (ROY) program, said more volunteers are needed.

“Kids are waiting,” he said. “What I would want to happen is to have more mentors. Kids really need the mentors.”

He had been enrolled in ROY by his mother and attended monthly meetings for a year until he was matched with Ken and Cassandra Murray as his mentors. A one-to-one mentoring program, ROY matches Huron County youth with volunteers. It is funded largely through Huron County Juvenile Court and also receives funding from the Willard and Norwalk Area United funds.

“Mason's mother wrote about him and specifically requested a male to be his mentor. She wanted someone to guide him and to do things together. His family members don’t live here, so Mason became our family,” Cassandra Murray said.

“We are empty nesters and had in mind what we wanted. We had sold our home in southern Ohio and came here. Ken had heard about ROY. People always ask us how did we meet Mason? We knew we wanted an older child, a boy. We were given several choices of a young male; we picked Mason,” she continued.

“There are 70 children currently part of ROY who are each waiting to be matched up with a volunteer. Forty of these are male and 22 are female, all between the ages of 6 and 18 years. More women volunteer than men, so it is harder to match young males with volunteers. There are not many men in general who sign up in the Norwalk-Willard area,” Murray said. “There is a real need for African-American and Latino men who could be volunteers.”

Kenneth Murray spoke about the huge need for men who “have a skill you would like to share” to become mentors for these youngsters. He has been a counselor his whole career, spending time trying to involve male mentors in similar programs.

Murray cited ROY mentor Joe Missler and wife Carol. Joe involves his teenage male mentee in learning the ins and outs of bicycle repair.

“It becomes much more than a pastime. It’s giving the youngster a skill and the confidence of knowing how to do something useful. Quite different from time spent playing a video game,” Murray said.

Canalos and the Murrays are appealing for more volunteer mentors for youngsters in Huron County. They said they hope it will shorten the waiting time.

The Murrays both have jobs and find mentoring once a week for a few hours.

“(It) is not a chore; it's a pleasure. Mason is up for anything. He doesn’t ever complain,” Cassandra Murray said. “We like yard sales; he’s OK with that. We all like bicycle riding, too.”


Meeting the first time, fun activities

When Canalos finally met the Murrays, he said it was an awkward situation and he “had an awkward smile.”

“Now it’s like I have a normal smile because I got to know them. It’s cool,” he said, referring to the ROY program. “You can meet people with the same interests you have. I socialize with kids and the mentors and when you see them together, you see they are meant for each other. It's been cool because most people are sitting around at home, maybe playing video games. ROY is a way to meet people. I met Jason in Willard at a bowling party, the first one I went to.”

At the monthly parties the children roller skate or play bingo, have a summer picnic, a Valentine or Christmas party. Kids can volunteer as helpers even when they don't have a specific mentor. In fact many youth become mentors to those younger than themselves. There are more than 50 adult volunteers who create and manage the programs.

About the ROY experience, Kenneth Murray emphasized “it's not about spending lots of money.”

“You don't have to go to Cedar Point. It's about spending time together,” he said.

The Murrays and Mason enjoy watching movies, at home or at the local theater, where Tuesday is $5 movie day and you can sign up for free popcorn. They like the Harry Potter and Monty Python movies and even have begun using famous lines from the movies as they joke together.

Since they began their partnership, they have done many fun things. Kathleen Murray said “Daniel’s Hobbies in Norwalk is a place to learn to fly a remote control plane and Mason gets to putter around there to see what he likes.”

What interests Canalos at the downtown Norwalk store is a flight simulator.

“You can see if you can do it. (I) can sometimes drive model cars. It’s really cool there,” he said.

"During the winter we use the rec center. We played racquet ball there 12 weeks in a row through the winter when Mason was done with football. He did summer baseball and plans to do wrestling this school year,” Kenneth Murray said.


Impacting each other

“Mason’s mom trusts us, so if he has something going on at home he can stay with us in his own bed (in the living room). He has a fish, a blue Beta called Baron,” Murray said.

The couple summed up the impact of having become part of each other’s lives.

“You go in feeling you're going to change the kid. But instead we’ve been changed. Our children are looking forward to meeting Mason, too,” Murray said.

Canalos had a few last thoughts for possible ROY volunteers.

“It’s just cool. Come out and see everything that’s going on. Come out and try it. It will be way easier (than you think) because if you have free time and don’t know what to do just come out and get a child off the list,” he said.

Call 419-663-2525 to reach ROY Executive Director Sarah Simmons and request applications.

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

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