Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Volunteer shows example of Christ-like love by mentoring an autistic child

There are many adages that come to mind when explaining God’s work in our
daily lives. It was God’s hand at work. God will never give us more than we
can handle. God stepped in.

Those who love him use these phrases to tell the story of 10-year-old
Mitchell, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

According to the Autism Society of America, “autism is a complex
developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of
life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum disorder’
that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.”

Mitchell is classified as “high-functioning” on the autism spectrum. To help
others better understand autism, Mitchell’s parents, Mike and Betsy, compare
autism to a snowflake, saying that no two cases are alike. They describe their
son as a joyful child who often simply just needs a matter of redirection of
attention.

Mike and Betsy call their family’s story a “unique example of God’s love.” But
Mitchell’s story is also unique because of the special relationship he has with
Corey, a volunteer who simply needed a bit of a nudge to get involved.

When Corey Ireland and his wife attended the new member class at King of
Kings Lutheran Church (ELCA), in Woodbury, Minnesota, Corey indicated that
he’d like to be involved with the youth, but that he’d need a special invitation
to do so. “I knew I wanted to be involved with the youth, but I didn’t know
which group would be the best fit. Then the question was answered for me
with an e-mail from Mel Harmon,” Corey said.

Harmon, who directs Club 56, a pre-confirmation program that meets weekly
on Wednesday evenings, had spoken with Corey at the new member class.
She previously had met with Betsy, who expressed her desire for Mitchell to
continue his Christian education. However, she also knew that switching from
Sunday School to Club 56 would be a major adjustment for her son. While it
was important for Mitchell to have someone help him, Betsy also knew that he
was at the age that he’d rather have someone other than his parents around.

That “someone else” that Mel had in mind was Corey. “This is truly a God
thing,” Mel says of the pairing. “It was a guess in the dark. It was God doing
it, it wasn’t me.”

When offered the invitation, Corey says he was instantly filled with questions.
While he was flattered, he was not sure he would be a good mentor and had
never worked with fifth and sixth graders. He also knew little about autism.
After a few days of reflection and prayer about these questions, Corey
accepted the invitation to serve as Mitchell’s mentor.

Corey says that it may have been “fate or direction from God, but if I had not
attended the new member class with my wife, my name probably would not
have been given to Mel. Truth be known, I tried to get an exemption from it
because I was already a member, but my wife was not. We know who wins
this argument.”

When they learned of Corey’s offer, Mike and Betsy said, “We knew very little
about Corey, but were gracious and thankful for his offer.”

Mitchell quickly bonded with Corey. “Corey was very receptive to Mitchell’s
needs and took on the challenge with graciousness. He is a big kid at heart,
but also shows great discipline and structure when the situation calls for it.”
Corey comes to Club 56 each week to sit with Mitchell, and has also brought
Mitchell to other youth events. Mike and Betsy say Mitchell looks forward to
Club 56 each week, primarily because it means he will get to spend time with
Corey.

“Mitchell loves to attend Club 56. … He looks forward to seeing Corey each
week. We feel that Corey provides Mitchell with opportunities that we may not
be able to if we had assisted him. [Time with Corey] gives [Mitchell] a chance
to be with someone other than Mom and Dad. … We have been truly blessed
to have someone like Corey step forward to be a part of Mitchell’s life.”

Corey’s willingness to give up an hour a week has changed not only Mitchell’s
life, but his own. He says spending time with Mitchell has given him a new
perspective on the challenges that God gives each of us.

He also sees the great importance of people giving of their time and talents.
“Giving is so much more than what you put in the offering each week. It’s
about sharing the talents you have with other people. No matter how small
you think those talents are, they can have a great impact on others’ lives.”

Mike and Betsy’s family has been blessed not only by Corey, but by the many
staff and volunteers at King of Kings who have embraced Mitchell for who he
is. “It’s so great to see people living Christ-like lives,” Mike said. “It’s great to
see people taking Scripture and applying it.”