DENVER - Patrick Byrne was in his mid-20s when he first met Ryan. Ryan was 14.
This was the start of a mentorship that would eventually turn into a deep friendship over 20 years.
"A little bit of nervousness," Byrne said as he described their first time meeting. "We had some similar interests...love for sports, love for the Denver Broncos."
Similar in some ways. And different in a lot of others.
"Ryan grew up in a public housing community," Byrne said. "I remember he said to me pretty recently that so many of his friends that he grew up with either passed away or were in prison. He really experienced real hardship in his life and in many ways, that was my first experience with a young person that was really under-resourced and facing significant challenges."
Countless meals and conversations, hours and years spent together built a special connection between two people whose paths might have never crossed.
"It was my first time in an underserved community really, my first time spending a significant time in a public housing community," Byrne said. "Backgrounds may be different and experiences might be different, but human beings are human beings and the connection you can create with others can be extraordinarily powerful."
Byrne was there as Ryan graduated high school, and he even drove him out to college in Nebraska.
"What is so amazing with the relationship with Ryan is...it evolved from a mentoring relationship when he was 14 years old to now just very close friends," Byrne said.
Ryan is now married with two children. He is the first in his family to graduate from college.
Ryan graduated with a doctorate degree and works in human services, the same field Byrne is in.
"He shaped and impacted my life more than I impacted his life," Byrne said.
Byrne's parents established a family foundation in 1995 to help at-risk youth students. The foundation eventually became known as "Denver Urban Scholars."
It's how Byrne met Ryan.
"I think what can be really inspiring and unique about mentoring is you can be on a journey and a path with a young person really focused on what they want to experience what their goals are," Byrne said.
Bryne still mentors young people through Denver Urban Scholars.
"We are desperately trying to find adults that will take that courageous step, to step into the life of a young person that is seeking connection, that has challenges in their lives...a young person that you can deeply impact," Byrne said.
Denver Urban Scholars has a shortage, especially with male mentors. If you are interested in being a part of the program, please visit their website at: http://http://denverurbanscholars.org/
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