Summit County Mountain Mentors hope to whittle down waitlist
Forty-two children on the waitlist in 2018
Mountain Mentors 2018 By the Numbers
31st year in existence
60 children matched with a mentor
42 children on the waitlist
39 planned group activities
5,760 one-on-one hours invested in Summit County youth by local volunteers
Source: Summit County Mountain Mentors
The number of Summit County Mountain Mentors could have been bigger Thursday night.
Introductions came easy as over two dozen men and women who’ve given their time and talent to mentor at-risk youth mingled about the upstairs of the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Frisco.
The celebration was at the close of National Mentor Month. Organizers hoped to use the casual dinner party as a reward for their volunteers and to raise awareness about the group that connects adults with Summit County children ages 8 to 16.
Studies show a close relationship with an adult mentor can help young people build self-esteem, do better in school, develop lasting skill sets, overcome life’s obstacles and be less likely to use drugs or alcohol.
Children are generally referred to the program through a family member, neighbor, teacher, counselor or themselves, and they voluntarily participate in the program funded by local grants and Summit County government with the cooperation of their parents or guardians.
In 2018, 60 children in Summit County were paired with mentors. On average they will continue this relationship for up to three years or more.
As the mentors introduced themselves, shook hands and swapped stories at the Rio — some meeting for the first time — they couldn’t help but talk about “their kids.”
For his part, Larry Furrer has been paired with a 12-year-old boy. They like to bike, fish and bowl in the summertime. In the winter, Furrer skis while the middle-schooler is learning to snowboard.
“We’ve also snowshoed together a couple times so that’s another thing that during the wintertime is a nice activity,” said Furrer, a retired teacher who’s been with the mentors program for about two years.
During their adventures, he and his mentee hang out and talk while Furrer encourages him to give his best.
“I think that’s a good message,” Furrer said. “I can’t guarantee that he’s going to hear it and abide by it, but I’m sending that message.”
On the flipside, Furrer gets a window into what it’s like to grow up nowadays. It’s completely different from when he was young, Furrer said. Spending time with a middle-schooler helps inform him about the challenges and temptations facing today’s youth.
Summit County Mountain Mentors has built relationships like this for over three decades, but the need for mentors has only grown during that time, especially with the growing prevalence of online bullying, more parents having to work outside the home and young people needing someone to listen to them now as much as ever, said Shawna Gogolen, program supervisor.
In Summit County, referrals for mentors have dramatically risen over the last four years — going from 27 in 2014 up to 71 in 2018. More heartbreaking is that more than 40 children who want mentors had to be waitlisted last year because mentors weren’t available.
The program has also seen a shortage of male mentors. For some reason or another, the organizers aren’t sure why they get more applications from women hoping to become mentors than they do men.
Summit County Mountain Mentors aims for its volunteers to spend about eight hours per month with the children with whom they’re matched. Furrer said it’s not a huge time commitment and he thinks “a willingness” to venture outside one’s comfort zone might be holding some people back.
“If this is something you think you can do — and anybody can do it — it’s just a matter of putting forth the time and being available to these kids,” Furrer said.
While many of the mentors are of retirement age like Furrer, there’s nothing about the program that speaks to the age of its volunteers, aside from mandating they be at least 21 years old.
Twenty-seven-year-old Mia Tarduno proves as much. She leads a busy life balancing work commitments with other responsibilities, but she too enjoys the time she spends mentoring a 9-year-old girl named Emily.
Open lines of communication, location-based matchmaking and careful day planning can all help make a mentorship run smoothly, Tarduno said, “but it can be an hour (at a time), and really, anybody can find that time.”
Beyond the individual outings, the organization also plans regular group excursions such as ice skating, tubing at Keystone Resort or a trip to Woodward Copper. One ulterior benefit is that the mentors get to enjoy these trips, too, volunteer Laura Champe said.
Like Furrer, she has been working with a middle school student, and Campe said her mentee is a ton of fun, looking for new experiences and full of questions. In fact, it pains Champe that so many children are on the waitlist.
“I know there’s a lot of good people in this county that would really like to help and would do a good job, but they just haven’t thought about it yet — so do it,” Champe said.
Find out more about how to become a mountain mentor online at SummitCountyCO.gov/mentor or by calling 970-668-9182.
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