UNION CITY — As far as Bryan Kimmy is concerned, Kenny Oaks lives up to the billing of his namesake tree.
Noble. Sturdy. Strong.
Kimmy, 28, volunteers several days a week with the Union City Area School District as webmaster of the district’s secondary website. He puts together three newsletters a year for both the elementary school and middle-high school. He also helps out in the elementary school library, by watching students in the hallway or “anything they ask me to do.”
Those tasks aren’t always easy for Kimmy, who was named the 2008 Union City Lions Club’s Citizen of the Year.
Kimmy has had cerebral palsy since birth and sometimes has epileptic seizures. He is blind in his right eye and also has a shunt that drains water from his brain through a tube into his stomach.
Oaks, a senior who will graduate in June from Union City Area High School, has been Kimmy’s friend since the fourth grade and his newsletter assistant for the past four years. More than that, Oaks looks out for his buddy at all times.
When Kimmy has a seizure or other health issues at school or an athletic contest, Oaks sometimes gives Kimmy an arm to lean on and a ride home.
“Kenny is my oldest helper,” said Kimmy, a 2005 Union City grad who has volunteered with the district for nearly 10 years. “He’s made all this possible for me. If he hadn’t been there for me, I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this all these years. When I keep pushing myself, he tells me I can’t do that anymore.”
Oaks’ support is rooted in their enduring friendship.
“I’m always on call for him,” Oaks said. “Bryan’s got a bigger heart than anybody I know. He puts himself on the line to help other people. You don’t find too many people like that in today’s society.”
When Kimmy recently fell in the parking lot behind Northwest Savings Bank and was rushed to UPMC Hamot with cuts on his face, Oaks bolted to Erie.
“He was instantly on the way to the hospital to see if I was OK,” Kimmy said. “I’ve never seen him so terrified.”
“Bryan has scared me a few times,” Oaks said. “He might drive me crazy sometimes, but I don’t know what we would do without each other.”
After graduation, Kimmy may be without Oaks during school, but help has already arrived.
Jimmy Toy will become Kimmy’s right-hand man. The seventh-grader already helps with the newsletters and has been Kimmy’s friend for years.
“We enjoy working together,” said Toy, who appreciates Kimmy’s friendly spirit. “He’s my stress ball.”
Toy realizes replacing Oaks is a tall task.
“I think I can do it,” he said.
Next in line are fifth-graders Aidan Skinner and Jacob Brooks.
Skinner helps Kimmy videotape and edit matches for the Union City Youth Wrestling Club, another of Kimmy’s volunteer efforts.
“Bryan is really kind-hearted and does a lot for the community,” Skinner said. “And hanging out with him is really a lot of fun.”
Brooks said he is the “rookie of the group.”
“We usually see each other in the library, and we talk,” Brooks said. “A lot of the talk goes beyond the school stuff.”
Oaks said he sees a lot of himself in Kimmy’s young friends. But it’s Kimmy who has taught him the importance of personal strength and humility.
“The No. 1 lesson I’ve learned is not to let anything hold you down, even if there are odds you can’t measure,” Oaks said. “If there’s something you want to do, let nothing stop you.”
Kimmy also has learned from the helpers he calls friends.
“They are like my brothers. There is still hope for people — these aren’t the cynical people you see on the streets,” Kimmy said. “I see it in Kenny, I see it in all of them. They are the best kids I’ve ever seen. I don’t think anyone could do it any better.”