Helping Hands: Spending time with Summit County’s youth
Summit Daily News
Every child can benefit from a mentor, according to Mountain Mentors program supervisor Sarah Provino.
“It’s a friend who has life experiences, rather than just a peer.”
The free program matches local youth with responsible adult volunteers; the adults act as positive role models for the adolescents and serve as both a friend and an advocate, similar to the Boys and Girls Club. A child with a consistent mentor for a year has an impact on a child’s decisions, and helps them stay away from drugs an alcohol; “it’s a prevention program,” Provino said.
Mountain Mentors started up in 1987 and is housed under Summit County Youth and Family Services. The program is funded through state grants. There are currently 55 adult/youth matches, and more than 70 kids on the wait list – triple the amount compared to two years ago. And while the number of adult volunteers has also gone up in the past few years, it hasn’t kept pace with mentees. Provino is not sure why the youth list has grown so much, but has a few theories: a better relationship with community members, which equals more referrals; word-of-mouth through participating families; or even a down economy – parents are working longer hours, which means more children need increased attention.
“It is growing, and it’s growing rapidly,” Provino said.
The program tries to serve the wait-listed through a three-day-a-week after-school program at the Silverthorne Library, run by Mountain Mentors staff, but Provino says recruiting additional mentors is a high priority right now.
“We go for walks, go to the park; we just spend time together,” mentor Miladros Shoemaker said. She has been spending two hours a week with the same 12-year-old girl for a year-and-a-half. “I just get to remember what it was to be a teenager again, being a part of that world.”
While her mentee is the shy type, Shoemaker, 28, has always been very talkative and outgoing. The relationship taught her to be more patient.
Mentors do a variety of activities with their mentees, which could include a few hours skiing to something as simple as visiting the dog park or going out for ice cream. Local business provide discounts for participants, including one-day ski passes from Vail Resorts.
“A lot of kids haven’t been on the mountain before,” Provino said.
One child told Provino her mentor helped her experience a few firsts: yoga, painting on a canvas, and even cooking asparagus. Another, the daughter of a single father, was able to talk to her mentor about friend troubles at school.
“It’s about having a friend,” Provino said.
To be a mentor, applicants must be over 21, go through a reference check, a criminal background and driving record check and an at-home interview. The program asks that participants spend eight hours a month with their matches, for at least a year. Many volunteers stay for more than a year, and some have participated for more than 12, Provino said.
“You just have to have time and work with the kids,” Shoemaker said.
Mentees are referred, usually through school counselors and teachers. The perception is that these kids are high-risk, Shoemaker said, which isn’t true. Most just have parents who are single, or work long hours and need more one-on-one attention.
When children – who must be ages 6-16 – are referred, they go through an interview with their parents and are put on the wait list, which isn’t first-come first-serve. The program does its best to match adults with youth who have similar interests. That means a child might apply and wait months for a match, or be paired within a few days.
“We really do take a lot of interest in making good matches,” Provino said.
Mentor Dave Miller, 31, has worked with the same young man for the past two years. They go swimming at recreation centers, ride bikes, watch movies, go to coffee shops, and even spend quite a bit of time volunteering for the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
While Miller’s job as programs director at Keystone Science School puts him in contact with children all the time, the majority of his connection is saying hello and good-bye to students. He became a mentor, he said, to form a deeper connection with a child.
Miller admits the first meeting was a little awkward, but soon they both opened up and discovered common interests. The teenager, now in his sophomore year, has someone to hang out with and forget about the stresses of high school, and Miller forgets about the stresses of adulthood.
“It reminds me to be a kid and have a good time,” he said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
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