In a 19th century blacksmith shop, Rob Lyon was working away at his forge when a little boy ran up, grabbed his leg and asked to be his friend. Without a second thought Mr. Lyon told the little boy that it would be his honor. He had no idea who the little boy was, or the impact this would have on him. The boy was Will Mitcham, a hyperactive and friendly child who has been diagnosed with autism. His mother was often over-protective, and worried that people did not always understand her son and were not very sensitive towards him. She feared that he would not be accepted. That all changed with Mr. Lyon's act of kindness and compassion.
After agreeing to befriend the young boy, Rob asked Ms. Mitcham if he could stay and help him finish his work. The blacksmith spent the rest of the day patiently teaching and showing Will the tricks of his trade. It was another day at work for Mr. Lyon, with nice company, but for Will and his mom it left them a new perspective on life. “His kindness to my son made me realize that I didn’t need to be as protective of my son as I had been – that by trying to shield him from potential hurt, I was actually robbing him of precious opportunities ... to meet and interact with some incredible people.”
Not only did it impact his mom in this way, it also had a huge impact on Will himself, who has made it a part of his everyday life to pay it forward. “He taught me to give kids who have special needs a lot more patience and to teach them the best you can,” said Will. “He also taught me that everyone is worth the same, no matter who they are or what they can do. He made me feel happy, because he became my friend and taught me a lot about how to make people feel important and to be kind. He also taught me respect, patience and kindness, and let me help out in the forge, which was something that I always wanted to do and still want to do.”
Will was able to go back to that the Old Sturbridge Village blacksmith shop and thank his friend for his actions some years ago. Rob was very humbled by the story and felt honored to have been able to have the impact he has had on Will’s life. Although many kids have made their rounds in the Old Sturbridge Village blacksmith shop, none will hold onto the memory the way will has, “After meeting the blacksmith, I felt like somebody finally saw me for who I was, and I still feel like I matter because of him. People with autism should not be made fun of, but they should be given patience and shown kindness. I wish that more people were like the blacksmith.” We recognize both Mr. Lyon for his incredible act of compassion, as well as Will, for his ability to use it as a constant reminder to pay it forward and give back.