By Tim Lima
---- — NEWBURYPORT – Last month, Newburyport’s Hugh Kelleher walked alongside brothers Ryan and Collin Logue to a microphone positioned just adjacent to home plate and exclaimed, ‘Play Ball!,’ — the official beginning to Mentoring Night at Fenway Park.
The experience, while anxiety-provoking, won’t soon be forgotten.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” said 16-year-old Ryan Logue of Newburyport. “It’s not every day you can stand in front of a huge crowd like that. But It was a really amazing experience and I was surprised that with everybody that went to the game that me, Hugh and my little brother were picked to do it.”
The night was just one of several lasting memories for the trio in their five years as participants in Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends program.
“I’m very aware of the need for mentors,” Kelleher said. “I thought that involving myself in the Big Friends Little Friends program would be a very good decision for me and I have loved it.”
Once enrolled in the program, Kelleher was paired with Ryan – who was 11-years-old at the time. A kid on the quieter side, Ryan was hoping to gain a male presence in his life; someone to look up to and be encouraged by.
“(Kelleher) has been a godsend to my children,” said Kim Logue, the boys’ mother. “He really has helped them with self-esteem issues and been an amazing role model for them.”
Six months following the matching of Kelleher with Ryan, 6-year-old Collin began to take an interest in the program that his older brother had noticeably enjoyed. While initially cautious of involving a younger sibling into the friendship, Kelleher raised the idea to Ryan who warmly welcomed it.
“You could tell Collin wanted to come along when Ryan and I did things together,” Kelleher said. “That sounded good to me. I asked Ryan how he felt about that, but they have a very special, strong relationship. They’re very close, and we all ended up hanging out together.”
The three typically see each other once a week – doing anything from catching a quick bite to eat to taking trips to Boston to visit different museums. While having fun is a regular occurrence, so too is direct encouragement and motivation.
“The boys are growing up and we have become important to each other,” Kelleher said. “I love these guys and I can be very direct with them when we talk about schoolwork. Ryan and I are going out tomorrow to try to find him a job. They get exposed to things that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to.”
“And the same goes for me. I love hearing what they’re up to in school,” he added. “Collin plays in Newburyport’s Pioneer League and I attend his games. But a lot of the time, we just hang out. We grab a bite to eat or go to the Jabberwocky Bookstore. They appreciate the time we have together, and I appreciate it too. It adds a whole other dimension to my life to which I am very grateful.”
Sometimes, even, they take in a Sox game. While having made the trip to Fenway a few times already, doing so on May 29 was far from a common occurrence when the three — alongside a mentoring pair from Boston – were selected to welcome the crowd to the game against the Atlanta Braves.
“I still remember the first time my Dad took me to Fenway to see Ted Williams decades back,” Kelleher said. “The boys and I had been to a few other games together, but we were contacted by Big Friends Little Friends and they said they were looking for people to throw out the first pitch, or yell ‘Play Ball!’ It was great. It was a beautiful night and the Red Sox won.”
It was just another valued moment from which has been a terrific friendship.
“Hugh has been a father figure and a great role model to look up to, especially for my younger brother,” Ryan said. “He’s at that age where having a father figure is a good thing for him.”
Kelleher stresses the value the Big Friends Little Friends program has had on his life. It’s a worthwhile involvement that is beneficial to both mentor and child.
“I would encourage anybody to spend a few spare hours a week to get involved in the Big Friends Little Friends program,” he said. “They can use men and women – people in their 20s are ideal. They won’t regret it.”
Information on joining the program can be found on its website at FSMV.org.