More than 50 children fill Mountain Mentors’ waiting list. The local nonprofit matches children from ages 8 to 18 with adult mentors who talk with them, play with them, do activities with them and serve as role models.
“We match people based on interest and personality and experience,” said program manager Sarah Provino. “It’s a friendship.”
That’s what mentor Jay DeBaggis has found with his mentee, 11-year-old Matthew. DeBaggis has been part of the program for two years, and said he’s thoroughly enjoyed it.
“It was actually more than I expected; it exceeded my expectations because he’s such a great kid and we have a blast together,” he said. “It’s just like spending time with a friend.”
All types of activity are encouraged between mentor and mentee.
“We encourage low- to no-cost activities and we provide activities every month as well,” Provino said. Such activities might include taking a hike, going out for ice cream, skiing or even just sitting down for a talk.
“It’s really about creating that relationship and that friendship that they’ll carry, hopefully, forever,” she said.
Ann Poucher has been part of the mentor program for the last 18 years, and has had experience with a handful of children. Though at the beginning she was nervous, that soon changed.
“As the time went on we bonded, we had this relationship,” she said. “Your main objective is to put a smile on that kid’s face.”
30 in 30
Throughout the month of June, the organization is pushing to recruit 30 new mentors within 30 days.
All mentor positions are voluntary and anyone age 21 or older can apply. The process requires filling out an application, background checks and an interview with program coordinators to ensure the candidate’s qualifications as a positive role model and to find just the right match. In signing up for the program, mentors commit to a full year of spending at least eight hours a month with their mentee.
One thing that surprised Poucher about the program is how much it made a difference in her life, as well as the children’s.
“It introduced you to things you would never do normally and it tested your skills as well as the kids’. It made you aware of who you were. … It teaches you as much as it teaches the kids,” she said. “I’ve come back from so many dates with these kids where my heart is singing. You feel like you’ve accomplished something to make a difference.”
Both Poucher and DeBaggis said they would recommend Mountain Mentors to friends and others.
“I would say that it is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever been a part of and, like I said, it exceeded my expectations for fun and content and positive influence on him, myself as well,” DeBaggis said. “So I would say that anyone that’s interested in doing it should not hesitate and jump right in and have the time of your life.”