Partners school-based and youth mentors change Routt County lives |

Partners school-based and youth mentors change Routt County lives

Jack Weinstein

Sixth-grader Gage Reynolds and his school-based mentor Sam Melamed discuss a book that Gage is reading at Steamboat Springs Middle School on Thursday.

— Gage Reynolds used to be mean.

The Steamboat Springs Middle School sixth-grader said that earlier this year, he wasn't getting along with other students. But that has changed.

Since late October, Gage has worked one-on-one with Sam Melamed, an AmeriCorps volunteer who serves as a school-based mentor for Partners in Routt County.

Partners is a youth mentoring organization that, in addition to running the school-based mentoring program, pairs adults with 6- to 17-year-olds.

Gage and Melamed meet for at least an hour a week. Gage said Melamed helps him with homework, and they work on organizational skills by creating lists. They also talk about ways to resolve conflicts and manage anger. Or they'll just play games and talk.

"Ever since we started meeting together, it's been a lot of fun, and he's helped me out a lot," Gage said. "He's like a friend who helps me in school. If I had to suggest this to anybody in school if they're having problems, I would."

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Melamed, the other six school-based mentors and Part­­ners' youth mentors were honored during a celebration Thurs­­day night in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Lib­­rary. The celebration was planned for January to coincide with National Mentoring Month.

"Truly, this evening is dedicated to thanking our mentors, supporters and friends, of which there are so many," Partners Executive Director Libby Foster said. "We are an organization reliant on volunteer and community support. It's a challenge to fully express our gratitude.

"We are so grateful. We are so appreciative. We wouldn't be here without these mentors, these supporters."

Changing 2 lives

Partners Case Manager Emily Dennis, who oversees the youth mentoring program, said 75 mentors served about 500 youths in 2010. But she said there's still a need for volunteers, with about 30 youths waiting to be paired with a mentor.

Zirkel Wireless owner Sean Heskett understands the value of good adult role models. He said there were several adults other than his parents who made an impact on him as a youngster. That's why Heskett first volunteered to be a mentor when he moved to Steamboat in 1999.

"I wish more people would get involved," he said. "I think it's a great way to give back to the community, and it's very impactful. (Partners') slogan is 'become a mentor and change two lives.' That really is true. It changes your life and their life."

Volunteers are screened thoroughly, and the program requires a commitment of three hours per week for a year.

Dennis said Partners particularly needs men to mentor boys, and mentors who live in Hayden and Oak Creek, but wouldn't turn anyone away.

Even though some youths are on a waiting list, she said they still can participate in the one or two monthly activities — such as bowling or snowmobiling — available at little or no cost to all participants of the youth mentoring program.

Becoming a better person

Steamboat Springs Middle School counselor Brande O'Hare said there's a coolness factor to the school-based mentors, many of whom just graduated from college. Because of that, she said more students are comfortable with the counseling office.

O'Hare said not only do the three mentors at the middle school work one-on-one with eight students each, but they serve the entire school. The school-based mentors run after-school programs for all students, such as Homework Club.

"There are so many fabulous things Partners brings to all levels of education," she said. "I'm thrilled with what they do at the middle school. I wish they were in more schools. We should be very grateful for the resources we have for adolescents at the middle school."

Two school-based mentors per district also work with middle-school-age students in Hayden and South Routt.

In less than three months, Melamed said he's already seen changes in Gage's behavior, his attitude and his schoolwork. Melamed said he and Gage, and the other students he works one-on-one with, have unique relationships.

"I think it's an awesome dynamic," Melamed said. "We kind of walk that fine line between friend and authority figure. Not being a teacher, we're younger than the adult figures they deal with on a day-to-day basis. It gives us added credibility. They can relate better."

Gage said he's being nicer to people, honest and respectful this year. Things are better for him. Gage said he owes a lot of that to Melamed.

"I think Sam's turning me into a better person," he said. "At the beginning of the school year, I was mean because people were mean to me. Now, I have a lot of friends."

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