Jon Buenger, Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan Unit Director for Marlatt Elementary School, said he loves the connection he makes with children. “Kids are much more likely to be respectful and follow your expectations when they have a relationship with you,” he said.

A local man who made changes in his life to become a better man is now teaching kids those same lessons.

Jon Buenger, 24, of Ogden, is a unit director for the Boys and Girls Club. Buenger oversees the operations at Marlatt Elementary.

On a day-to-day basis, Buenger does administrative work and planning for learning and program activities for the Marlatt Elementary program.

“One of our grants is positive action,” Buenger said. “So there’s a curriculum and certain ideas you’re supposed to teach, you know really simple stuff such as hygiene or being kind. Maybe it’s ‘Don’t do drugs.’”

The last message particular hits home for Buenger, who called himself a pretty bad guy until he was 20. “I was addicted to drugs,” he said. “I was living my worst life.”

He didn’t want to get into specifics of his addiction. Instead, Buenger focused on the positive — when he said that Jesus Christ saved him.

“Basically I ran out of money and I ran out of drugs, so I had to get clean,” he said. “I was literally just sitting on my toilet. Just had no idea what to do. I got in touch with an old family member who pointed toward the Bible.”

Buenger said he remembered reading Corinthians 5:17 — “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

The passage connected with him, and he said it was like walking around in a different body.

“My life did a complete 180,” he said. “Immediately, I got clean, lost a bunch of weight, really got into shape and made a bunch of friends that built me up. They pointed me to the Boys and Girls Club.”

Buenger applied to the Boys and Girls Club after talking with a friend and youth ministers who also worked at the club. He started as a part-time worker and then accepted a full-time position after graduating from K-State in 2019.

“I started working for the Boys and Girls Club, and my life’s been roses ever since,” he said.

Jennifer Rodgers, director of grants and program outcomes for the local club, said Buenger is a really fun guy and has a lot of character. “He gets on our children’s levels,” she said. “He thinks about what they want to do or what they want to learn and he makes it fun for them.”

As an example of a fun activity, Rodgers said Buenger made a marble run out of PVC pipe in the cafeteria. “When it was time to clean up, which no like to clean up, he made it a competition,” Rodgers said. “You had to tear apart your own project and couldn’t touch anybody else’s.”

Buenger said he enjoys when he can be more creative. He created a game called mathketball and finds creative writing projects for students and games to play in the gym.

Rodgers said she’s seen him grow at work, especially when making plans. At first, his plans were not as in-depth, and now he is more intentional with the activities he plans. She said he has been working on creating Jeopardy for all the age groups he works with and making questions for different levels.

Buenger said he believes forming relationships with the kids is the best thing he does.

“Kids are much more likely to be respectful and follow your expectations when they have a relationship with you,” he said.

Buenger said the kids have an affinity for his laid-back personality. “There a lot of people when you’re around them you can kind of feel their stress, and I think that’s common in school sometimes,” he said. “Teaching is a stressful job. I think if you’re stressed out, the kids feel that, and they don’t want to be around that.”

Buenger said he has seen kids grow and mature in different ways through his work, especially after the pandemic.

“I saw how harmful that was to all the kids,” he said. “I had two kids, on two separate occasions, come and tell me they wanted to kill themselves. They genuinely came to me and said they were miserable and wanted to kill themselves. I talked to the parents and told people who need to know, and we worked through that. Now both kids are doing great.”

Outside of work, Buenger is getting into real estate. He bought his first house in Odgen, which he is remodeling, and said he’s looking to buy his second. “If I become busy enough with real estate where I do it full time,” he said, “the reason I would is because I would like to support my (future) family very comfortably.”

Buenger gets most excited about the people and kids he works with at work. “I definitely have a paternal instinct,” he said. “I think whether it be your own kid, or kids in the community, men and women were made to serve kids.”