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Someone You Should Know: Renee Ortiz

Renee Ortiz and her Compeer buddy, Mary (WHAM photo)

When Fairport High School Spanish teacher Renee Ortiz got the call from Compeer, she considered the commitment she was being asked to make. Someone needed a friend, and she was more than willing to be one. But before she volunteered, she wanted to make sure she could give the relationship all it required. After all, the well-being of a little girl was on the line.

Now, Renee and eight-year old Mary are celebrating the first anniversary of their first meeting. And both know there will be many more friendship anniversaries to celebrate.

Compeer, founded in Rochester, uses the healing power of friendship to help people living with mental illness. Volunteers are needed. Right now, there are almost 150 adults and children on the waiting list.

Mary's mom died while she was pregnant with her. With no dad around, Mary's been raised by her grandmother, Maria, who moved from Puerto Rico to take on the role.

But about a year ago, Maria knew she needed help. Her granddaughter was not smiling and not connecting with others. Mary was depressed.

A call to Compeer led to the agency’s search for a bilingual volunteer. The search led to Renee, an already busy teacher who took a night to think it over before saying yes.

Renee, who does not have children, says she and Mary hit it off almost immediately.

“I thought, ‘You know what? This is an amazing opportunity. I can’t lose this,’” said Renee.

The last year has included trips to the Strong Museum, an Easter egg hunt, swimming, biking and Red Wings games. But where they go is less important than the fact that they are together.

Asked about Renee, Mary gets a big smile on her face.

When asked why, Mary says, “Because I love her.”

There is no longer any sign of the shy and sad little girl who Renee met last fall. Mary’s full of energy and optimism, and not at all shy about saying how much she enjoys her visits with Renee. The two spend eight to ten hours per week together, much more than the minimum four-hours per month suggested for Compeer matches.

Renee and Maria were featured at the annual Compeer sports luncheon on October 25, where keynote speaker and former Buffalo Bills star Steve Tasker told the crowd if you want to make a change in your life, work to make a difference in someone else’s.

“It's something so simple to do,” Renee says. “And the rewards for her and me are equal, I do believe.”

“I get the joy of seeing this beautiful face every single time,” she added, “and I grow from her, because I see the growth, and also the happiness and the joy I see in her face brings me so much joy.”

The feeling is certainly mutual. Asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Mary looks up at Renee and says, “I want to be like her.”

For more information on being a Compeer volunteer, call 585-546-8280, or click here.

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