More than just a volunteer
Makayla Luther says she has been volunteering with people with disabilities for as long as she can remember. That says a lot considering Makayla is only 15 years old.
As a young child, she would help with activities at Starfire, a residential facility in Cincinnati where her aunt was employed. In 2014, shortly after moving to Mansfield, Makayla and her mother signed up to volunteer at Raintree, a similar facility operated by Richland Newhope.
“I was always around people with disabilities; it wasn’t anything abnormal for me,” says Makayla. “I’ve grown up around helping people.”
During the past three years, she has helped with numerous activities and special events at Raintree as well as community outings. Makayla, a student at Mansfield St. Peter’s High School, has volunteered with the Challenger Little League baseball team and supported individuals from Raintree who have participated in area 5K races using a special Team Hoyt running chair.
“I did cross-country freshman year, and I love running,” Makayla says. “Just to be able to incorporate my friends along with me in races is just the coolest thing.”
Prior to attending St. Peter’s, she was a student at Lexington Jr. High where she volunteered in special needs classrooms. She even did a science fair project that involved creating a special tray with a weighted cup for one student.
“She has turned into such an amazing lady,” says Residential Recreation Supervisor Sherry Minnig, who nominated Makayla for the Hero with Heart award. “She makes me a better person.”
“She treats everyone with utmost respect and dignity, and she actively finds ways to help the men and women who live at Raintree be as independent as possible,” Sherry notes. “When we’re out in the community, she is one of their best advocates.”
Sherry says it’s not unusual for Makayla to give up her weeknights and weekends to support individuals at Raintree so they can do things important to them.
In fact, volunteering at Raintree has become a family affair. Her mom and dad, Virginia and Tom Luther, and her three younger siblings, ages 6, 4, and 2, often accompany her.
“We think of the whole family as our family here,” Sherry says.
“You can never have a bad time when you’re at Raintree!” adds Makayla.
Makayla’s volunteerism includes more than just Raintree. As a member of Key Club and Regina’s Kids at St. Peter’s, she has been involved in many community service projects.
However, she has a special affinity for people with disabilities.
“They’re our friends, too,” says Makayla. “They’re no different than the rest of us.”
Many who reside at Raintree are non-verbal, but she says there are other ways to communicate.
“I think body language talks just as much as words do,” notes Makayla. “Everybody can talk in different ways. You just have to listen and watch carefully.”
Her volunteer efforts have impacted her so much that Makayla hopes to one day own a company that specializes in art therapy for people with disabilities.
“I would absolutely love to do something in this field – there’s no doubt about it,” Makayla says.
She credits her father for giving her a strong work ethic and calls her mother and Sherry her female role models.
“They’re the two people I look up to the most in my life, and I hope one day I can fill their shoes, maybe not completely but somewhat,” Makayla adds.
In such a short time, Makayla has made a significant difference in the lives of so many people. She truly epitomizes what it means to be a Hero with Heart.
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