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Not a typical 11-year-old

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Thaxton boy forms organization to help others

By John Barnhart

    Ryan Balderston, of Thaxton, sometimes thinks of himself as “a 40-year-old in an 11-year-old body.”

    It probably doesn’t go that far, but sitting down and talking to him is more like having a conversation with an older teen. He isn’t your typical 11-year-old.
     For example, Balderston has started his own disaster relief organization—Oakridge Relief. The name comes from the street he lives on in Thaxton.
    An event in his life when he was very small gave Balderston a sense of compassion for others. He was about 4 and his family was going through a tough time financially.

     Christmas came and there was no money for Christmas presents for him and his siblings. A local church stepped up and provided help.
    “I didn’t understand then,” he said.
    But, he remembered and began to understand that help as he grew. This understanding gave him a sense of compassion for others.
    His tastes in TV aren’t typical for an 11-year-old, either. He watches the History Channel. He also watches news a lot as well as weather reports. Events like the 2011 earthquake in Japan riveted his attention.
    “That was a little scary,” he said.
    All of this made him aware of disasters in various parts of the world. Because of this knowledge about what’s going on, and his desire to help, he wanted his mother, Kelly Balderston, to take him to New York to help people hit by Hurricane Sandy last year. His mother managed to talk him out of that, making it clear that he was too young to be of much help.
    Then, in early June, he got the idea of a disaster relief organization. He founded Oakridge Relief on June 10 and appointed himself CEO.
    “I was clueless,” Balderston said, describing his degree of knowledge about what he needed to do. All he knew is that he would need a lawyer.
    His mother, who is working on a degree in psychology at Liberty University, is not a lawyer but  she had heard about Gleaning for the World. She was able to arrange a meeting with the Rev. Ronald Davidson, Gleaning’s founder and president. The Rev. Davidson is not a lawyer, either, but he knows a great deal about what Balderston had in mind.
    Balderston said that the Rev. Davidson liked his idea, and was surprised that the idea came from an 11-year-old.
    Gleaning is relieving Balderston of the immediate need for a lawyer. This organization will act as a 501 (c) 3 umbrella for Oakridge. Checks can be made out to Gleaning, in care of Oakridge Relief, and are tax deductible. Gleaning, in turn, distributes 100 percent of such designated money to Oakridge.
    The Rev. Davidson also talked Balderston out of his desire to personally distribute relief to the areas that he will be helping. He pointed out, from experience, the dangers relief workers face in these areas — dangers Balderston hadn’t considered.
    The Rev. Davidson convinced Balderston that he is still too young for that. Balderston agrees, although he’s determined to begin personally going to those places once he’s 17 or 18.
    “By that time it [Oakridge Relief] will be a lot bigger than it is now,” Balderston predicted.
    He will get to personally go to one of his projects. He’s collecting a variety of items for homeless veterans at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Salem.
    His other project is an orphanage in Jamaica — he already has a bag full of teddy bears.
    Balderston is a rising 6th grader at Montvale Elementary School. He’s routinely on the school’s A/B honor roll and his favorite subjects are history and politics. Last year he tried to organize a school newspaper and recruited some fellow students to help him.
    “It was a fun project for a lot of us,” he said.
    He’s passionate about history and enjoys having debates about history and politics with his father, James Balderston.
    “Most of the time he’s right,” Balderston said of his father.
    He said he wants to be a lawyer, although his father thinks he will be a politician.
    “He’s a good negotiator,” his mother commented.
    For more information on Oakridge Relief, you can check out the organization’s Facebook page, or you can e-mail him at oakridgerelief@aol.com or call him at (540) 676-3114. Checks can be sent to Oakridge Relief, 206 Oakridge Drive, Thaxton, Virginia 24174. Checks should be made out to Gleaning for the World with “in care of Oakridge Relief” in the memo line.