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NHS grads, ROY volunteers receive $500 memorial scholarship

Cary Ashby • May 31, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Two teenagers who have volunteered their time for the local Reach Our Youth mentorship program are the 2018 recipients of the ROY Thomas E. Heydinger Memorial Scholarship.

Danielle “Danny” Ashakih and Alyssa Leiby each received a $500 scholarship Tuesday. The scholarship is named for the late Heydinger, a retired Huron County juvenile and probate court judge who died July 9, 2012 at the age of 70. He started the ROY program — based on one-on-one mentoring — in the county in 1978.

Leiby and Ashakih graduated recently from Norwalk High School.

Ashakih, the daughter of Daniel and Tina, started volunteering for ROY in 2015. She has distributed food and drinks at roller skating and Valentine’s Day parties, designed T-shirts for the program and hosted ROY parties. 

“She will do anything you ask,” executive director Sarah Simmons said Tuesday during the scholarship presentation, noting that Ashakih has given up a lot of her free time for ROY.

Ashakih will attend Ohio Wesleyan University, where she will have a double major in fine arts and civil rights studies.

“I think the school is the perfect size for what I’m looking for. They have a very dedicated staff that’s extremely helpful for students,” she said. “I think the fine arts program is impressive and I’m very excited to be going there.”

Leiby, whose mother is Nicole Raab, joined the ROY program in November 2016. She has been partnered with girl who is now 7 years old. Simmons said Leiby averages 20 hours a week with the girl and the two spend time doing a variety of activities — crafts, homework, coloring, going to the movies and swimming together.

“It’s fun to see you two together,” Simmons told Leiby.

In the fall, Leiby will attend the University of Findlay, where she will study pre-vet and animal science. She said she chose the school because it has one of the top three veterinarian programs in Ohio and she will have many hands-on experiences.

“Kids and animals have always been her thing,” said her mother, who is a nurse.

Also the director of a Toledo drug and alcohol treatment center, Raab said at-risk youth who are involved in mentorship programs such as ROY don’t just stay busy; they have a much-needed support system, which helps keep them off drugs.

Leiby’s NHS social studies teacher, Derek Pigman, had offered extra credit for volunteering. Leiby said she then met with Simmons, who shared with her “how much kids needs mentors.” 

“Honestly it has given me the little sister I’ve never had and (taught me) how it impacts other people’s lives,” the teenager added.

Ashakih grew up in a family that served as a foster family for 13 years. Her mother was a ROY mentor for a year.

Tina Ashakih said volunteering in general “shows character” and her daughter’s experience with ROY has helped her be organized and “even more compassionate.”

“I wanted to get into volunteering,” added the younger Ashakih, who heard about the program through her mother. “I wanted to do something that would help other people.”

Judge Timothy Cardwell said he believes strongly in ROY, which Heydinger started 40 years ago. He also said he can’t think of greater a tribute to Heydinger than keeping it going for years to come.

“He had a real passion for matching at-risk youth with mentors,” added Cardwell, who noted he and his staff have gratitude for Heydinger’s years serving in the U.S. Army. “We have 80 kids on the waiting list.”

Heydinger, who was born on his family’s Plymouth farm, served as a captain in the 1st Calvary Division during the Vietnam War as a helicopter pilot. He later was a military lawyer in the JAG Corps and was awarded the Bronze Star and Army Air Medal for his service.

Gov. John J. Gilligan, in 1975, appointed Heydinger to the position of judge of the local probate and juvenile courts. The Norwalk man served continuously for 28 years until his retirement in 2002.

Anyone age 16 and older can be a ROY volunteer. For an application, call 419-663-2525.

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