Mountain Mentors seeks volunteers for National Mentoring Month
The texts start on Sunday.
What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?
Although their weekly meeting isn’t until Monday, Debbie Stratton usually starts chatting about it the day before with her 9-year-old mentee, Lili. The two were paired together a year and a half ago through the Mountain Mentors program, a local nonprofit organization that matches adults with children ages 8 to 16.
“It’s been amazing,” Stratton said of the experience. She moved to Summit from Boulder right after her youngest son began college, and was looking for a connection within the county.
“I thought, this is just a perfect way to bridge that gap, and do something in our community,” she said.
After seeing an advertisement in the newspaper, she filled out an application, then went through the background check, interview process and training, after which the organizers paired her up with Lili.
“When we first got together, I think we were both nervous,” Stratton admitted, “and now we always say we can’t believe what a good job Mountain Mentors did of matching us. We have so much fun together and it’s just been great to get to know this little girl. She’s an amazing little girl.”
One of the first things they did together was make a list of all the things they wanted to do. It ranged from simple things like dancing and playing guitar, to bike rides, ski trips and playing around at the recreation center. Now, Stratton says they’ve crossed nearly everything off their list, and the two recently made a scrapbook commemorating their time together.
“The dynamics of the relationship just seem to continue to grow, and it’s just really everything I hoped it would be,” Stratton said.
NATIONAL MENTORING MONTH
In December, President Barack Obama proclaimed January to be National Mentoring Month.
“Every day, mentors play a vital role in this national mission by helping to broaden the horizons for our daughters and sons. This month, we celebrate these individuals who make it their cause to bring out the best in our young people, and we salute their spirit of service,” the proclamation states. “Mentors and caring adults serve as essential sources of inspiration, lifting up young people and positioning them to build the America of tomorrow.”
The Mountain Mentors organization has been in Summit County since 1987, and currently serves 55 students through its mentorship program. It also provides prevention education programming for the middle school and the Peaks School, an alcohol and drug substance abuse awareness program for the high school and hosts a general teen drop-in at its offices, where kids and teens can come and socialize in a safe place after school.
This September, Shawna Lane took over the program supervisor position from Sarah Provino. Lane had been the teen program coordinator for three years previous. There have been no other changes, though Lane is always looking for more volunteers for the program.
“There is still a good need for more mentors,” she said.
Currently, the waiting list for a mentor is 45 names long.
“A mentor doesn’t have to have any extensive experience working with youth, they just have to have a generous interest in giving back to a young person,” she said.
All mentors must be 21 years or older, and submit to an application process that incudes providing references, a background and driving check, and an interview. Each mentor is required to spend at least eight hours a month with their mentee for a minimum of one year. After that, there’s an evaluation and they can decide to continue with the mentorship, or try another pairing.
There is no requirement for mentees beyond age, parental permission and the desire to have a mentor. Some are referred to the program by schools or counselors, while others hear about it from their friends and approach the organization themselves.
“The only commonality is they all want to have a mentor,” said Lane. “They all want to have that extra support system in their life.”
‘WE JUST DO THINGS WE LIKE’
Once they’re paired up, mentors and mentees decide on what they want to do. While many do go on ski trips or out bowling, even just sitting and talking can be enough.
Local retired physician Huib Vriesendorp was paired with a 9-year-old mentee about a year and a half ago.
“I meet with him once a week at a set time and we just do things we like,” Vriesendorp said.
Since his mentee is athletic and enjoys the outdoors, they do a lot outside, from skiing to soccer practice. Indoors, Vriesendorp has been helping him with his reading, while occasionally taking a break for a game of hide-and-seek.
“It’s really developed into a very good friendship,” he said.
Additionally, each month, Mountain Mentors puts together a voluntary group activity. Sometimes it’s something simple like a picnic or movie night, and other times it’s a bigger trip, like the one to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science last fall.
“It’s pretty fun because mentors can meet other mentors at the group activities and same with the mentees,” Lane said.
For those considering volunteering with Mountain Mentors, “I would tell them to go for it; it’s a really great program,” said Stratton. “It’s rewarding and you can have a lot of fun and find yourself being a kid too, and doing activities that you wouldn’t maybe typically do but end up being really fun.”
Vriesendorp said he would also recommend the program, so long as they knew they could dedicate the time.
“You really need to be motivated to do this, and the most important thing that you cannot do is disappoint your mentee,” he said.
Both also praised the support they’d seen for the program throughout Summit County.
There’s a phrase, Lane said, that she’s heard many mentors use over and over again.
“My mentee keeps me young.”
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