Showing them the other side of the tracks

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30 2013 10:20 p.m. MST

“And I tell them, ‘I told you dude.’ ”

In addition to the salaries, the foundation helps with rent for apartments, clothing, food and other essentials to get someone started in an existence outside a life of crime.

Asked the obvious, Gary says, “Oh yeah, it takes a ton of time, but I enjoy doing it.”

* * *

What has one man wrought?

To date, more than 60 at-risk youths have been mentored by Forever Changed, the majority of them by Gary, and a handful more by Dennis Gay, the man who was Gary’s LDS branch president when he was a volunteer at the Wasatch Youth Center.

Recently released from that position, Dennis, like Gary, can’t let the work go. “This isn’t about LDS people trying to convert people,” he says. “This is about helping these kids get to a better place. Most of them, once they get a taste of it, they don’t want to go back to the old life. Some get in a pinch and relapse. But even though they may go back, they’ve had a good experience and they’re more apt to go straight after a relapse. That’s what Gary taught us. Hang in there. It’s really about patience.

“Gary was such a great mentor for all of us. He and Nancy had all these foster kids in their life. They knew how to work with them, what to do. The rest of us didn’t. It’s kind of like trying to tell someone how to eat peanut butter. You can’t explain what it tastes like to someone who hasn’t ever tasted it. Gary taught us that these kids, they just don’t know. We’re starting with them from the ground up. Everybody doesn’t see things through our eyes. They haven’t been where we’ve been. They don’t have the same experiences we do. It’s perspective.”

In addition to the work being done by Forever Changed, the LDS branch at the Wasatch Youth Center has formulated its own mentoring program designed to help kids post-incarceration. Not only do branch volunteers participate actively as mentors on the outside, but individuals with specific life skills beyond the branch are brought in for special expertise and influence. Each month, a meeting is held with branch leaders, youth center officials and state representatives as well as representatives from other religions to identify youths who need mentoring help and those best suited to help them.

Bill Aho, the current LDS branch president — and the person who alerted the Deseret News about this story — is unhesitant in giving credit for the mentoring revolution where it’s due.

“A lot of people talk the talk with their religion,” says Aho. “Gary Kehl walks the walk. It’s one thing to deliver a good sermon, but Gary does the Lord’s work.”

Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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