Stark County Sheriff recognized for youth mentorship in ceremony at South Heart school
"He's really become a well-rounded young man and is a lot more social. I don't think he could have stood up here in front of the entire school in years past. A mentor and mentee relationship is invaluable for both sides of the relationship and I'm happy to call Ty my friend," Lee said.
SOUTH HEART, N.D. — For law enforcement officers there is often much more to the job than simply enforcing the laws. Often officers and deputies spend countless hours of personal off-duty time guiding and mentoring local youth in an effort to break through barriers and help teens make the good life choices that can be the difference in preventing future criminal behavior.
For this very reason, volunteers from police and sheriff’s departments across the country are stepping up to provide role models and mentor teenagers and young adults in need, changing their lives in the process and in many cases improving public safety at the same time.
Ty Gregory used to feel out of place in social settings, increasingly so in the last few years of social distancing. Suffering from social anxiety disorder used to be a barrier to the teenager and began becoming increasingly difficult by the seventh grade.
"I felt anxious. I felt overwhelmed," Ty Gregory said. "Sheriff Lee helped me. He's my friend that I talk to about things. He helped me."
Lee began mentoring Ty Gregory when he was in eighth grade, and the two have since formed more than a mentor and mentee relationship, but a friendship that Lee says will last for a lifetime.
"Ty is a great kid who used to have real bad social anxiety. We started hanging out and I just listened to him and shared my own experiences in life," Lee said. "He's really become a well-rounded young man and is a lot more social. I don't think he could have stood up here in front of the entire school in years past."
Lee added, "A mentor and mentee relationship is invaluable for both sides of the relationship and I'm happy to call Ty my friend."
For Ty Gregory's mother, Joy Gregory, the transformation and friendship gained by her son in his relationship with Lee has been life-changing.
"When Ty wouldn't or couldn't reach out to me or his dad in a way to express himself anymore, we knew that he needed someone else to be that in his life. It was a great opportunity for him to talk openly about things in his life without feeling like he was hurting us," Joy Gregory said. "Sheriff Corey Lee became that for him and is a great impact on Ty's life. His relationship with Ty has become more than me or his father could have ever imagined."
Joy Gregory says that parents with similarly situated children should not feel like they have failed, or that their children are growing away from them, but instead actively seek out ways to provide their children with opportunities to talk and grow through mentorship programs.
"I'm very grateful for having Sheriff Lee in Ty's life. It started out as, 'that police officer' and has become, 'my friend Corey' and that is remarkable for Ty," Joy Gregory said. "I reached out to Sheriff Lee one day and just asked him if he would be willing to be Ty's big brother mentor and he said, 'I'd be more than honored.'"
According to Joy Gregory, mentorship programs are great resources for building relationships for children, teens and young adults, but aren't the only avenue for building those much needed connections.
"There are mentorship programs in the community, but we didn't go through one. I knew, from other people, that there are often police officers, firefighters and other community members who are capable and willing to be those mentors in the lives of children," Joy Gregory said. "I just reached out to Sheriff Lee directly and it's been a life changing connection for my son. Other parents should try and do the same. You don't need anything formal or to be a part of a group, just one-on-one reach out to others in the community who can help"
Ty Gregory said that what started as another socially awkward situation in meeting Lee, quickly became one of his favorite things to do.
"I liked hanging out with Sheriff Corey Lee and going around to community events," Ty Gregory said. "He's my friend now and I gave him the best mentor award today."