Clayton Alden was shy and quiet, and didn't want to speak — to anybody.
At only 11, he was just the kind of boy who likes to blend into the background, according to Kelsey Schrimpf, community program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson City.
Clayton was really close to his grandfather, who died in a helicopter crash a few years ago. And he lives in a single-family home with his sister, mother and grandmother.
BBBS organizers really struggled with finding a match for him, Schrimpf said. About three months ago, the organization had a new applicant, Marcus Reynolds, who has been a Missouri Highway Patrol officer for the past 18 years. The two shared similar backgrounds, had interests in outdoor activities and dogs.
Having lost close relatives, they each had a void in their lives, she said. Through BBBS, they may be filling both voids.
The program has brought a change to Clayton, according to his mother, Roxanne Alden.
"He's just become a lot more outgoing. I see him talking a lot more at school," she said. "Now, he gets out to do a lot of things his fellow classmates do."
Clayton is participating in archery, enjoying classes and recently got a new dog — a beagle named Turner, who is now the second male in the house.
The boy smiles when he talks about Turner.
While discussing archery, Clayton took out his sister's compound bow — although it is left-handed and he is right-handed — and demonstrated how the sport is done.
"It's just a school sport. They hold competitions," he said. "You have steps to it that you have to go through. You have to shoot (the target) in the middle."
You shoot from two different distances, the St. Peter fifth-grader said. His team, which practices twice a week, includes about 60 children.
Children are something new to Reynolds.
He had never had children and oftentimes felt he had something to offer someone.
"I went through a divorce, and I kept thinking I could be a positive influence in somebody's life," Reynolds said. "I thought I would try to mentor a kid."
A former supervisor of Reynolds had done some mentoring with BBBS and Reynolds decided to give it a try in June.
When Schrimpf called and said there was a match for Reynolds, the two met.
"His interests were right there with mine," Reynolds said. "We like archery. We're interested in the outdoors. We like dogs. It's pretty cool how things have come together."
After BBBS put the match together, Schrimpf, who follows up with the pairings, saw they got along terrifically.
"I like him a lot. He's nice," Clayton said. "We went to his farm and the place that he works."
Clayton had been so shy, Schrimpf said.
"And not really happy. And nothing would interest him and make him smile," she added. "It's really changed. He's just a different kid now that he's with Marcus. He's excited about things and has more interest."
Reynolds has helped the boy deal with some anger issues, she said.
Clayton is doing better at school.
Before the match, he would say that he didn't have any friends — and nobody would talk to him.
He tells Schrimpf that suddenly he's making friends and enjoying school.
"Marcus is helping a lot," she said.
Clayton brightens when Reynolds arrives to pick him up before they go on their weekly adventure.
"We went fishing, for trout, I think," Clayton said. "We didn't catch anything."
In addition to fishing, they toured the Highway Patrol Troop F headquarters and rode in a combine on Reynolds' farm, Clayton said.
"We carved pumpkins, but they rotted," he said. "We went on the hayride thing. We roasted marshmallows and hot dogs."
Reynolds, who is a supervisor of the Troop F Criminal Unit, said he has a very demanding job.
"Part of this is finding something away from by job. Because I'm consumed by my job," he said. "I'm committed to it, but I also don't want to let Clayton down if my job interferes. This has allowed me to have a life outside the Highway Patrol."
It is a goal that for every match of "bigs" and "littles" the organization puts together, the children involved enter positive, lasting relationships, according to Lee Knernschield, program director of the Jefferson City chapter.
The program organizes matches between adult mentors (bigs) and children (littles), ages 6-17. The matches are intended to last until the child graduates from high school or turns 17. It's mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of children and youth through a professionally supported, primarily one-to-one relationship with a caring and committed volunteer, according to mvbbs.org. (Formerly known as Missouri Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters, as part of a nationwide rebranding effort, the organization underwent a name change in October.)
Document: YMCA (Big Brothers Big Sisters) 2017 Form 990View
"We provide mentors. We provide children with a consistent friend that spends time with them and helps them reach their potential," Knernschield said.
And despite duration limits, the pairs oftentimes stay in touch long after their mentoring program ends, she added.
Volunteers must be at least 16. They have to own or have access to a reliable automobile, hold a valid driver's license, maintain minimum limits of auto liability insurance and meet other criteria.
"With all volunteers, we take them through extensive screening," Knernschield said. "Then, there is one-to-one training."
The organization offers a quarterly training session in which speakers address issues the bigs encounter and issues that affect the littles.
"Those training sessions are unique opportunities for bigs to talk to one another. Sometimes, that's the best encouragement that a big needs — is knowing somebody is going through the same things," Knernschield said.
The Jefferson City chapter currently has about 160 active matches.
But, 30 children (both boys and girls) are waiting for bigs.
In this series:
'Match' fills voids for Big Brothers Big Sisters pair