Summit County’s Mountain Mentors looks to meet demand for volunteers | SummitDaily.com

Summit County’s Mountain Mentors looks to meet demand for volunteers

Summit County resident and Mountain Mentor Gail Shears with mentee Julissa, a student at Silverthorne Elementary School. Shears was a first-time mentor looking to give back to the community and make an impact with a young person, and the two have been matched for several years.

January is National Mentoring Month and Mountain Mentors is asking that members of the community consider stepping up and volunteering in the capacity to help guide some of Summit County's youth.

The 29-year-old organization, part of the Summit County Government's Youth and Family Services, currently supports 40 matches between mentees ranging in age from 8 to 16 and local adults offering their time. That's a healthy total, but still leaves 65 students who have requested a mentor and are on the waiting list for lack of a sufficient number of available advisors.

"The scientific evidence shows to have that true impact, the relationship has to last a year in that young person's life," said Shawna Lane, program supervisor. "So we ask for a one-year commitment, and that can be one of the biggest barriers for Summit County residents because so many who inquire work seasonal jobs and are not sure if they'll still be living in the county six or nine months down the road."

She also noted some potential mentors come in a bit intimidated, assuming the responsibilities will be overwhelming and require a significant background in providing leadership to young people, or expect it be more of a serious role. In fact, she said, it's usually the exact opposite.

"I just try to reinforce that you don't have to have a ton of experience, and that the staff is here to support you," said Lane. "It's often connecting with young culture in a new way, really fun and quite enjoyable."

Mountain Mentors accepts candidates from all walks of life, from college students to individuals who are retired and already graduated from their professional lives. The only requirements are that he or she be individuals older than 21, go through an interview process that includes four references, have a clean driving record, and passing a CBI and FBI background check. Candidates will also be available eight hours a month.

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There are few restrictions as for who can enroll as a mentee as well. People routinely believe students must come from a certain financial background or have behavioral issues, but in fact, there are no income limitations, nor specific behavioral constraints. The student simply has to request and want a mentor.

"We find that's really important," said Lane, "because if a young person doesn't want a mentor, that's difficult for everyone involved."

"Dozens of caring adults in Summit County volunteer as mentors every year, and we're so grateful for their participation," County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said in a news release. "Having a mentor truly empowers young people to make smart choices that put them on a path to making healthy life decisions."

A 2014 report commissioned by the National Mentoring Partnership titled "The Mentoring Effect" cited myriad benefits to the mentor-mentee relationship. It found that young people with a mentor who had been at risk for not completing high school were 55 percent more likely to enroll in college than those who did not have one. Those individuals with a mentor were also 81 percent more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities and twice as likely to say they held a leadership position in a club or a sports team, and 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities.

Stats aside, Lane plainly points to protégés exhibiting positive behavior, and avoiding the negative. Mentors lend a support system different than a parent or teacher and are not necessarily an authority figure.

"It's just another focused person simply investing in that relationship with a young person," she explained. "It's a listening ear, another caring, supporting adult in their lives, which improves self-confidence, and their goals for the future seem to be bigger and more creative. It's pretty cool to watch."

Though it is not affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Mountain Mentors is based on the same programming as the nonprofit organization, necessitating that volunteers be from with the community, and mentees be from enrolled in the local school system. The mission is one in the same as well: To help individuals lead healthy and positive lifestyles.

Funding for the agency comes mostly from state-level grants, about 90 percent, so it essentially functions as a nonprofit, with the other 10 coming from Summit County Government. The Summit Foundation also recently kicked $46,000 to Mountain Mentors during its fall grant cycle, to help with paying its four staff members' salaries.

All other money goes toward events in which mentors and mentees can participate, or for individual activities for these pairs. From a separate donations account, students can also spend a $200 allotment considered an annual scholarship on extracurricular costs such as paying for a sport or club at their school.

In an ideal world, Mountain Mentors would gain the 65 mentors it needs to reach fully meeting the need on its waiting list in this January mentor drive, but is more realistic in its aspirations and would be ecstatic to match between 10 and 15 new mentee-mentor pairs.

To learn more about becoming a Mountain Mentor, or to refer a prospective mentee to the program, contact Shawna Lane at shawna.lane@summitcountyco.gov or (970) 668-9182. More information is also available on the program's website: http://www.summitcountyco.gov/mentor, or by liking Mountain Mentors Colorado on Facebook.