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Reservation provides grounds for success

Kyle Rudman has worked for five years as a volunteer at Hale. Kyle Rudman has worked for five years as a volunteer at Hale. (Brian feulner for the boston globe)
By Meg Murphy
Globe Correspondent / December 11, 2011
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WESTWOOD - At Hale Reservation, Kyle Rudman always gets the job done. He stacks firewood, supervises dam clearings, labels trees, clears debris, and keeps supplies fresh at visitor stations. Recently, he was also assigned to greet visitors with a smile and a nicety, such as “Terrific day. Great dog. Enjoy your walk.’’

While unequivocal about his love for Hale, Rudman, a special needs student, isn’t so sure about this additional duty, acting as a kind of friendly ranger at the 1,100-acre reservation - a “face of Hale,’’ as his proud supervisors say.

“It might work out,’’ said Rudman, 18, recently while hiking, knee-deep in long grasses, through the woods on the reservation. It’s difficult for Rudman to stop and strike up a casual conversation - staying motionless in one spot is maddening for him. “I’ll last like two minutes and then I’ve got to be doing something,’’ he said.

This greetings challenge is the latest given to Rudman in his five years as a twice-weekly volunteer at Hale Reservation, a nonprofit educational organization that maintains the land, more than 60 buildings and structures, and learning programs for 7,000 children and 450 families annually.

The people at Hale say they believe in Rudman - they’ve seen what he can do.

“We are trying to create an environment in which he can experience success, gain responsibility, develop the same skills as other young adults,’’ said Eric Arnold, executive director of Hale Reservation.

“He is a very polite young man who is in the process of figuring out the best ways he can interact in a professional environment. Now we’re encouraging Kyle to be a Hale representative and welcome visitors.’’

The reservation is the legacy of Robert Sever Hale, a research engineer, who founded it in the early 1900s as a place for Scouts and other youth. Today Hale’s programs draw students from the suburbs south of Boston, the city, and all over. It is open to the public and a popular hiking spot - a place created to offer the possibility of inner transformation.

Rudman is one of its success stories.

“We’re all very proud of Kyle. He’s just such a great kid. We’ll take 10 more of him,’’ said Jay Walsh, environmental resource manager at the reservation. Walsh has supervised Rudman since he arrived at Hale at age 13 as part of a work-study program out of the Education Cooperative in Dedham.

Kyle’s mother, Michelle Fallon, said her son has been drawn out by his experience at Hale. She said his outlook shifted when he earned the title of Volunteer of the Year a few years ago, which was “just an unbelievable experience’’ for him. His independence and social skills have flourished since then, she said.

“Hale has just been such a breath of fresh air, it speaks to his strengths,’’ said Fallon. “It used to be if you wanted Kyle to do something, you’d give him a list and it was a fight to get it done. Now he is self-motivated. Before Hale, he had never won an award. He never had anything like that - and they honored him.’’

Growing up, Rudman “always had such a rough road,’’ said his mother, explaining that he is cognitively impaired and “affected in 11 to 14 other ways’’ - including a serious mood disorder, extreme attention problems, fine motor skills, speech and language issues, learning disabilities, and an innate tremor. Fallon said her son didn’t fit in the mainstream school system, and often in elementary school he experienced “meltdowns.’’

“It all changed when Hale become part of his life,’’ she said, crediting the Education Cooperative, a regional agency that provides innovative learning resources, including special education, with matching her son with Hale.

“It is the perfect fit for him. And I don’t think this would have worked if it wasn’t for Jay at Hale,’’ she said. “He gets Kyle. There are people who have known Kyle for years, even within my own family, who don’t get Kyle. Jay sees his strengths. He is kind. He rolls with it.’’

It is essential to match students with a workplace that is a good fit for their individual personalities, said Thomas Bruffee, a teacher in the transition program at the Education Cooperative.

“Kyle loves working at Hale. He loves working outdoors. He has good stamina and likes physical work. He is also a very compassionate young man. He really cares about other people and develops relationships,’’ he said.

On a recent morning, Rudman was clearing rocks and wood pieces from a walkway. “I would bring the wheelbarrow close to where you are going to work,’’ Walsh, also holding a rake, told him in a calm voice.

“The tool is just to make your life better,’’ Walsh coached as the pair sorted through debris.

Walsh paused to make an observation about the young man he calls a “brush-stacker extraordinaire.’’

“Kyle is happiest when he is lifting up rocks or doing other physical work. I’ve noticed he starts tapping his foot when I stop to say hello to people. Sometimes he’d rather work than talk, but don’t let him fool you - he can talk.’’

Rudman was raking leaves, listening as Walsh described him as having “a great love of Hale.’’ Asked to share a reason for this love, a memory from his time volunteering, Rudman stopped work for a moment.

“One time I was over at the tool shed with my job coach, and I saw two bucks,’’ Rudman said, slowly, tugging on his baseball cap, emblazoned with Hale’s insignia.

“We got pretty close to them. Those bucks didn’t run away or anything. They weren’t afraid at all,’’ he said, returning to his task.

Meg Murphy can be reached at msmegmurphy@gmail.com.

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