ABOVE: "Mystery Teen' Román Newkirk and Elaine Lobato. (Photo by Mount Dora Buzz)
To say teenagers often get a bad rap is an understatement. One Mount Dora teen unwittingly debunked naysayers last week by his kind actions when no one was watching.
Last week, Elaine Lobato found herself stranded away from her car after Lake Square Mall closed without notice. To make matters worse, it was dark, her car was on the other side of the mall and she had a painful knee injury.
A teen who was also leaving Bealls, caught up to Lobato and offered his help to navigate a difficult construction area in the dark and drive her to her car. Once he did that, he waited until she was safe before driving away. During their conversation in the car, Lobato, a Umatilla resident, learned the young man was a Mount Dora High School student, but forgot to ask him his name. Eager to locate him to thank him again, she reached out to the high school for help, but privacy laws prevented them from giving out information.
Lobato, a registered nurse, wasn’t going to give up. She took to social media and described the student and her experience on Mount Dora Word of Mouth, a large local Facebook group, and asked for assistance in finding him. Mount Dora Buzzsaw the post and expanded the search with its wider reach and offered a gift card for the mystery student’s kindness. Before long Barrel of Books and Gamessaw that post and quickly offered up a gift card of their own. As the good deed resonated within the small town of 13,000 residents, the post reached over 30,000 people after being shared 370 times.
The power of social media paid off when Laurie Bryant saw the post and contacted Mount Dora Buzz. Bryant knew the mystery teen well--it was her son, standout MDHS senior Román Newkirk.
Her 17-year-old son told his mom about the experience with Lobato the evening it happened. “He started the story about the incident by saying that some people help others and do things for show and recognition, but it’s the things you do when no one is watching that shows your heart and who you really are, and then he told me the story,” said Bryant who lightheartedly describes Román as a “gentleman in training” and raised him as a single parent for fourteen years until Román’s stepfather, AJ, entered their lives in 2016.
“I told him that there was something about him that made her (Lobato) comfortable getting in his car, and it spoke highly about his character,” continued Bryant. “He said he was thinking the same thing. He said that he’s Black, he was dressed in black, and he has dreads. He was so happy to know that someone would overlook the stereotypes about young, Black men, see him for who he is, and trust him.”
ABOVE: Newkirk (#8) making plays during Mount Dora High's homecoming game on Sept. 13. (Photo by Joe Ott)
Román was completely unaware of the viral local effort to find him because it was a full day for him -- classes at school, appearing in the Homecoming Parade, being in the Homecoming Court followed by playing in the big varsity football game. It wasn’t until after the homecoming game that Bryant informed the star- player about the intense social media search for him. Román and Bryant agreed meet with Mount Dora Buzz yesterday at the school for what they thought was just a photo, but they didn’t know surprises were planned for both of them. The most emotional surprise was that Lobato was also there. The good Samaritan and Lobato immediately shared a few heartwarming hugs as Lobato thanked him again for his kindness and handed him a card.
Those surprises were really just the tip of the iceberg. The big reveal came when Austin Guenther of G3 Development was introduced and presented Román with a $1000 scholarship for his strong character and good grades (see video). Both mother and son were, of course, shocked and grateful.
Román no doubt has a bright future. Not only is the fun-loving student enrolled in honors classes, but he is also a stellar athlete. He has played multiple sports every year since he was 4-years-old and is currently a standout football, soccer, and baseball player at Mount Dora High School. Earlier this year Román was named the Daily Commercial’s Soccer Player of the Year.
Mount Dora High School varsity football coach Frank Scott nicknamed Román “Mr. Do-it-All” because of the five positions he plays - wide receiver, cornerback, kicker, punter, and quarterback. Scott describes him as a consistent leader on and off the field who always shows up on time with a great attitude.
ABOVE: (from left) Elaine Lobato, Laurie Bryant, Román Newkirk and Austin Guenther of G3 Development. (Photo by Mount Dora Buzz)
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid,” Scott said after learning about the G3 Development scholarship.
Román, who loves to travel and hang out with friends, plans to attend college on a sports scholarship to pursue a career in personal training dedicated to athletes, but for now, he’s concentrating on his senior year and his part time job at Brookdale Senior Living.
The charismatic yet humble student wasn’t expecting all the attention because he felt he helped Lobato out of pure instinct and was taught that it was the right thing to do. Lobato also reminded Román of his own grandmother and would want someone to help her in that situation.
“I felt honored because of the positive things that they were saying about me and my Mom,” Román said of reading the dozens of comments on Mount Dora Buzz’ Facebook page about him. “I feel that I showed concerned people that our generation isn’t hopeless.” When asked what he hoped others learned from his act of kindness, Román responded, “That it’s so easy to do the right thing. Even if you don’t get recognized, you should still feel like you made a difference in someone’s life.”
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