A partnership of success

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— Beth is the kind of thirteen-year-old girl that strikes immediate admiration in those around her. She has a tough-girl walk, but a baby face.

She looks straight into your eyes as she talks, but at a conversation last week over a soda at The Colorado Bar, a stream of middle school friends who wanted to know when she would be finished so they could hang out constantly interrupted her line of thought.

Beth hasn't always been such a leader.

Amy met her two years ago when they were partnered together in a mentoring relationship by Routt County Partners, a Big Brothers/Big Sisters-style organization.

"When we first met, she was so much younger," Amy said. "She is such a woman now. Her perspective has changed. She is more sensitive to things. Now she is strong, opinionated and confident."

Amy credits most of the change to Beth's mother, but "I like to think that Partners helped her as well."

Annie, another Partners mentor, is paired with a 16-year-old girl in Oak Creek who asked that her name not be used.

They meet once a week for a few hours, she said.

They walk dogs at the animal shelter, go out to dinner, go bowling, horseback riding or to the movies together.

"It's a chance for her to spend time around someone who isn't a parent or a teacher, just an adult who can be her friend," Annie said.

Annie is a 37-year-old Steamboat resident.

The drive to Oak Creek is "quite a hood," she said. "But absolutely worth it."

"It's such a one-on-one relationship," Annie said. "The rewards are very present. It's not like you wonder if you're making a difference."

Annie said her partner struggles quite a bit with life's challenges.

"I try to listen more than I talk," she said. "What she most needs is someone to take the time to listen. I give her real honest feedback. I care about her. Sometimes it's tough love."

During the first year of their partnership, Beth and Amy spent a lot of time together. They were matched partly for their common interest in horseback riding.

Amy, a 34-year-old Steamboat resident, would attend Beth's gymkhana classes every Thursday.

"She's really cool," Beth said. "It took me a couple of weeks to trust her. Now she's really easy to talk to."

According to Beth, when she was grieving the loss of one of her best friends who died in July, she called Amy.

"She told me, 'Think about where he is now. He doesn't have to deal with what other people have to deal with,'" Beth said.

Over the last few years, Beth had made it through some hard times.

"Amy told me to just think about when someone else does this," Beth said. "I can tell them that I've been there. I understand what you're going through."

"I see myself as her friend," Amy said. "I am never part of the disciplinarian process. I just try to support her."

Recently, Beth and Amy haven't seen as much of each other because of the birth of Amy's second child. Once things stabilize, however, Amy plans to stay in Beth's life as long as she will let her.

Beth is one of the few fortunate South Routt youth who have been able to find a mentor. According to Executive Director Paul Bialek, nine kids in Oak Creek alone are waiting to be partnered with a mentor.

Partners would like to see more adults from the Oak Creek community volunteering as mentors. Of the six teens from that community who have been partnered with adults, half of those, such as Beth, have mentors who drive from Steamboat.

"The drive is easy in the summer," Bialek said. "But in the winter, the drive is harder for people to make. I'll talk to people in the winter who admit they haven't made it out to see their partner in months."

Beth guessed the reason people in South Routt don't often volunteer is because they are busy.

"I definitely think that people view mentoring as a luxury," Amy said. "It's something for people who are retired or wealthy. I think most of South Routt is struggling for free time as it is."

Teens involved in the program are usually referred to Partners by teachers, principals and school counselors who think the student could benefit from positive grownup interaction.

"All kids need mentors," Amy said. "Some kids have more opportunity to have mentors in traditional ways than others."

What mentors represent for their partners are life options the teens may never have been exposed to from their immediate environment.

Mentors need no special qualifications, Amy said.

"You need to have a good head on your shoulders," she said, "and the ability to follow through."

"The last thing these kids need is another adult bailing on them," Bialek said.

In August, Partners of South Routt hired Oak Creek resident Amy Pankonin as a volunteer recruiter for the area. She has already been instrumental is setting up a mentoring program in the schools that pairs high school seniors with middle school students.

Partners has been pairing adults with teens since 1997 and is making a push to be more active making those kinds of connections in South Routt.

Beyond the one-on-one partnerships, Partners also hosts bimonthly recreational activities.

"We go pick up the kids in our van," Bialek said. "There is always a solid turnout from South Routt."

Last month, the group went to the wave pool in Craig. They have gone river rafting, snowmobiling and taken trips to the climbing gym in Steamboat.

Though Partners is actively looking for adults to volunteer as mentors, only the committed need apply.

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