“Make a difference in a kid’s life and have fun”
[ By Kendra Walker ]
“Every child deserves a mentor. It takes more than just parents to raise kids and especially in our small, rural community, it’s so important to have a village of role models making a positive difference in our children’s lives,” says Johnna Bernholtz, the lead Crested Butte case manager for Gunnison Valley Mentors. “We’re trying to fill that gap.”
Since 1990, Gunnison Valley Mentors (GVM) has served local youth by connecting them with caring adults and offering a variety of positive, alcohol-and-drug-free programs and services. Last year alone, GVM served 273 mentor/youth matches, recruited 170 mentors and clocked 10,204 volunteer hours.
“Anybody can be a mentor” explains Bernholtz. “We have all types of people serving as mentors. A mentor is anybody who wants to make a difference in a kid’s life and have fun.”
Bernholtz recruits mentors, screens all volunteers and kids, matches them and supports them throughout the process. Mentors go through an extensive application, background check, interview and training process. “We’re matching kids with adults one-to-one, so we go pretty in-depth. Any screening we can do, we do.”
Every kid who wants a mentor can have a mentor, says Bernholtz. “They must be a willing participant and their parents have to be on board. But we feel that any kid who wants a mentor should be able to have one.”
Bernholtz explains that all kids are referred by an adult in the child’s life who sees that a mentor would benefit them. “We don’t take referrals directly from the parents. Because it’s a volunteer service we don’t want to be seen as a babysitting service,” says Bernholtz. Most referrals come through the schools, such as from a teacher, school counselor or staff member.
Once a kid and mentor are matched, it’s up to them to take the reins and figure out what they want to do together. They are encouraged to spend a minimum of one to three hours a week together over the course of one year or one school year. Bernholtz suggests that when a pair first meets up, they come up with five things to do, and then they have a go-to list of options in their back pocket.
“Once they are matched, we step back and are here for support,” says Bernholtz. “We’ll do weekly check-ins for first three months. GVM also offers a least one group activity each month, and we encourage them to come to two or three a year.”
GVM has several different mentorship program options, including community-based, school-based, summer programming and enrichment at GVM’s 8th Street mentoring center.
The community-based program is a one-year commitment, and a mentor/mentee match will meet weekly. “It’s about getting out, developing a strong, supportive relationship and having fun together,” says Bernholtz.
The school-based program offers several volunteer opportunities. Students are matched with a trained mentor who will spend time with them throughout the school year helping with social/emotional skills, attendance, study skills, communication skills, organization and homework. “They meet the students wherever they’re at, whether that’s behavioral, social, academic, etc.” says Bernholtz. Additionally, GVM paid InSpire mentors work with a caseload of students during the school day for support every week. High school students can also volunteer one day a week for peer-to-peer meetings with elementary students in a supervised setting.
There are several summer mentoring and programming opportunities under the GVM scope. GVM offers a summer work crew for kids ages 11-15 with the goal to help them gain job skills and learn about businesses around the valley. “These are the ‘tweenage’ group, they’re not quite old enough to work so we show them opportunities and teach them a few skills. They track their hours, and they earn a little stipend,” says Bernholtz. The work crews volunteer at businesses throughout the community, including weed pulling at Mountain Roots, greeting customers at Six Points and bussing tables at Mario’s Pizza.
In addition to the work crew, GVM offers a summer mentorship group to mentees who don’t have a community-based mentor. This year, the group consists of 8-13-year-old girls who meet weekly for activities, including arts and crafts, movies, yoga and beach days at Blue Mesa.
GVM’s 8th Street facility in Gunnison is available for all mentors and mentees. GVM offers free activities, after-school enrichment activities, group events and rental opportunities for the community.
Later this year, GVM will host its annual Golf Tournament at Dos Rios Golf Club on October 15. “Anybody in the community can sign up as an individual or team,” says Bernholtz. “It’s a great time, and we always have some mentee kids out there helping with the event.”
GVM is always looking for more mentors and caring adult volunteers to help make a difference in the lives of the youth of the Gunnison Valley. “We always need mentors. Especially male mentors,” Bernholtz stresses. “We tend to have more women volunteers. We usually have a couple boys waiting almost all year to be matched with a male mentor.”
Bernholtz consistently hears how rewarding the mentorship experience is from both the kids and adults. “One of my favorite comments I get from mentors is that the best thing about being a mentor is that they get to be a kid again,” she says. “They get to let their hair down.”
As for the feedback Bernholtz gets from the kids: they have somebody to go do things with besides their parents. “It’s good to have somebody else,” says Bernholtz. “It’s like having another friend.”
To learn more about Gunnison Valley Mentors, refer a youth or apply to be a mentor, visit www.gunnisonmentors.com.