MANSFIELD -- Ontario High School student Isaiah Morales has become a dependable and skilled Mansfield Area YMCA employee. He works as a lifeguard and swim lessons instructor, while assisting with other responsibilities beyond his job description. The 16-year-old did not always display this ambition to help people though. When his mother enrolled him in the YMCA at the age of 10, he broke the facility’s rules and was suspended for three weeks. A group of staff members allowed him to return as a volunteer – a decision that would change the trajectory of his life. “When I first walked in the building, I was amazed because it was really nice,” Morales said. 

He enjoyed swimming as well as playing basketball and racquetball with his friends. A single mom at the time, Michelle Davis appreciated the YMCA’s commitment to providing a safe place for her son in the evenings while she was at work. “It’s close to my job, and it was just a safe environment,” Davis said. Still, she would have problems with her son’s behavior. “He was teetering on becoming an amazing person like he is now, or getting into a lot of trouble,” she said.

Morales found himself spending time with friends that were disrespectful and disruptive at the YMCA. “I was running around, not listening to anyone and just hanging out with the wrong people,” he said. YMCA staff members suspended his membership, but not without mentioning the good traits they noticed in him. Davis encouraged him to change his circle of friends so that he could avoid further trouble.

“We all knew about Isaiah - that deep down he is a good kid,” Director of Youth Development Ashley Pifer said. “To watch the choice unfold that he had to make was almost a little nerve-racking.” Without friends and a place to spend time after school, Morales hit a lonely point in his young life. Davis said it was a difficult and emotional time for her son. “He had a lot of sad days and sad nights,” she said. “I just wanted to come back because it’s a nice place, and I wanted to go swimming,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff to do.” “My proudest moment of Isaiah was when he made the decision to say, I am going to do the right thing,” Davis said.

When Morales did return to the YMCA as a volunteer, he brought a renewed perspective and sense of purpose. The YMCA staff, including Building Supervisor Monte Johnson, rallied to help him stay focused as a volunteer. “(Monte) was mainly by my side helping me and trying to make me better than I was,” Morales said. “I started to work longer hours - sometimes till close - because I just loved being there.”

Morales learned how to accomplish a variety of tasks around the YMCA, including washing and folding towels, setting up fitness accounts and training members to use the FitLinxx program. He learned to work the wellness desk and also assisted with events. “It was awesome and great experience,” Morales said. “I enjoyed the members and seeing them happy and everything. That made me happy.” He even recalls cheering up a member who was having a gloomy day. “I guess I made his day better by talking to him and making him happy.”

“Members love him,” Pifer said. “They recognize him. He’s there five days per week. It’s a familiar face that they can have.” A few years into volunteering, Morales discussed his options for becoming a lifeguard with Pifer. “Isaiah had made it abundantly clear that he wanted to become a lifeguard from the time he turned 14,” Pifer said. “We all knew that’s the direction he wanted to go.” “I wanted to be a lifeguard because I wanted to be a better example,” Morales said. 

Morales did well on his prerequisite test and in his training class. He began working as a certified lifeguard in January 2016. He said his work is enjoyable because the adults are happy and the children have fun. Morales recently earned an additional certification to teach swim lessons. “It’s awesome helping the kids get prepared for summer,” he said. In his experience so far, Morales has saved three children who were struggling in the water. “As soon as I see a kid needing help I go in,” he said. “I want to help them. I just like helping people.” As his supervisor, Pifer appreciates Morales’ reliability, dependability and drive. “Isaiah came with a drive that most 15-year-olds don’t have,” she said.Morales always wants to do more - whether it’s lifeguarding, teaching swim lessons or helping with special events. “You don’t get that from a lot of young teens anymore.”

Morales continues to grow.