William Montgomery didn’t exactly plan to volunteer to mentor middle school kids as part of an after-school program. In fact, after one semester, he thought he was ready to check out.

Nearly five years later, the graduating University of Oklahoma law student is bidding farewell to Loveworks Leadership and the kids that have changed his life.

As a show of appreciation, staff and students gifted Montgomery with a case of Dr. Pepper, his favorite soda, during end of the semester presentations in December.

Typically, as part of the program, volunteers make one semester commitments to mentor middle schoolers, or even a year. Montgomery said that he started his junior year at OU because his business program required it of him.

“At the time I was here, it was mandatory, he said. “It seems to me the act of making things mandatory makes it bad.”

At first, he volunteered at Loveworks six hours a week but felt like he wasn’t getting much out of the program. By the end of the semester, he started to connect with one child in particular, who asked him to stay on another semester.

“Eventually one of the students convinced me into coming back,” he said. “I was only there for three hours per week, but after that, it turned a corner.”

The act of choosing to be of service made all the difference in the world, and more students started to open up to him, Montgomery said.

“We’ll sometimes have people come in and stay in for two, three or four weeks, and they’ll stop because they don’t think they are getting anything out of it,” he said.

“They may not understand that when you are working with middle school kids like this, they are not quick to warm up, and they are not just going to see a new adult come in and want to make friends. But they warm up to you over time, and that’s when you start to get something out of it.”

Loveworks Leadership provides a space for students to receive leadership mentoring and life skills training one or two times a week. Students learn about developing passions, acquiring new talents, business and entrepreneurship.

Carolyn Le, Loveworks’ associate director, said Montgomery has been instrumental in defining the culture at Loveworks.

“William has been one of those core people to make things happen,” she said. William excels in finding students that may be looked over otherwise and connecting with them.”

Loveworks is intended for middle-school students, but invites high schoolers who were a part of the program to apply to become mentors. After Montgomery committed himself to the program, he felt like he wanted to help mentor his former students in their new roles.

“At a point, I was connected to these students, and I wanted to see them through the program,” he said. “Those students became volunteers. Right now, we have high school volunteers about to graduate who have been here since they were in middle school, and I will get to see them graduate at the same time I graduate law school.”

Sami Grace Marshall and Baylor Collins are high school volunteers who decided to return to Loveworks, in part, because of the mentoring they received from Montgomery. Sami has known Montgomery since she was in the sixth grade.

“He’s so sweet. He’s very funny, and he listens very well. He’s a good friend,” she said. “He listens to the kids a lot, and I’ve seen him take in what they need and what they want and be able to put action to it.”

Baylor said he admires Montgomery because of how he can calm those who are out of sorts or having a hard time.

“He has one of those attitudes you want to be around,” Baylor said. “He’s a genuine guy. Any room he goes into, you can feel a change in the atmosphere.”

Over the years, Montgomery has done bus duty, taught passion projects, business skills, community involvement, 3D printing, sports, journalism, how to stream videos, and even woodworking.

“One of the first things I taught was woodworking, and that was challenging because I didn’t know a lot about it,” he said. “It was one of the most satisfying things I’ve taught because I’ve had to put a lot into that.”

Montgomery isn’t ready to predict what the future will hold. He is preparing for graduation, and then he will be taking the bar exam in the summer.

He said he knows whatever endeavor he undertakes next, this experience will have helped him to be a better person.

“It’s difficult because part of the change that happens to us we don’t really see,” he said. “I think, myself, more empathetic than I was five years ago, just being around kids all the time.”

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