Men-toring shortage affects kids

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Editor's note: Reporter Brent Boyer is a senior partner with Partners in Routt County. Brent and his junior partner, Tyler, were matched three months ago.

Libby Foster can't help but take her work home.

As the case manager for Partners in Routt County, Foster spends many nights with the names and faces of local children swirling inside her head. She often imagines the perfect adult mentor for each before drifting off to sleep.

When she returns to her office the next morning, the list of children awaiting senior partners serves as a constant reminder that there simply aren't enough volunteers to go around.

"These kids deserve so much," Foster said Thursday from her office inside Colorado Mountain College's Bogue Hall. "They want to be matched, and I think that's what pulls on your heartstrings the most -- just knowing they want it, and I can't provide it is frustrating. They join Partners to get a partner."

Partners in Routt County is a nonprofit youth mentoring organization that pairs local youths, or "junior partners," with compatible adult volunteers, or "senior partners." The primary role of the senior partner is to be a positive role model, friend and advocate to the youngsters, who range in age from 7 to 17.

Most junior partners are referred to the organization, but participation is 100 percent voluntarily. Youths who become junior partners are referred for a variety of reasons; often for something as common as living in a single-parent household.

Since 1997, 180 partnerships have formed through the organization, providing local children with positive adult influences that research shows can have numerous beneficial effects on their lives.

But as has been the case for years, many children are forced to wait -- sometimes more than a year -- for the right match to come along. The wait is especially common for boys, simply because men in Routt County are far less likely to volunteer for Partners than local women.

Partners can match female senior partners with boys, but often the boys need and want a male role model in their lives, Foster said.

"Most boys want to be matched with men," Foster said. "It's usually because they don't have a male role model. There are so many single moms in town.

"These little guys want someone to go hunting with, they want someone to go fishing with. They just want somebody to have good, quality guy time with."

Of the last 30 adults to volunteer as senior partners, only three were men. There are 22 Routt County children waiting to be matched with senior partners; a majority of them are boys.

Partners officials are hesitant to speculate about why so few men volunteer as mentors, but it's a problem experienced by mentoring organizations nationwide. According to a 1999 Corporation for National Service report, possible reasons for the lack of male mentors include that men don't value volunteer work as much as paid work, men have a bigger time crunch, volunteering with children is viewed as a feminine activity, men are scared to serve as mentors or lack confidence, and men fear allegations of abuse when in a mentoring relationship.

Whatever the reasons, Partners officials hope that spreading the word about the need for male volunteers will spur more men to action.

For those Routt County men who are senior partners, the experience has been incredibly rewarding, most agree.

With his two daughters attending college, Steamboat resident Stacey Rogers said his home had become a little too quiet. Four months ago, he became a senior partner and was matched with Dillon.

"I figured I had a couple of hours each week to help out," said Rogers, who works six days a week. "I'm having a ball with it."

Rogers and Dillon usually hang out at least once a week. Their time together has been spent golfing, bowling, fishing and watching television and movies. Rogers is waiting for Dillon's report card to come out to see if some of their fun time will have to be spent on school work instead.

"I'm getting a lot out of it, and I think he's having a lot of fun," Rogers said.

Scott Glackman and his junior partner, Deuce, just celebrated their one-year anniversary.

"Deuce is like the little brother I never had," Glackman said. "There's not enough time to do all the things we want to do. We'll stay friends forever."

Because of Partners' comprehensive matching process, Glackman and Deuce knew they shared a lot of interests before their partnership began. The pair spent an afternoon snowboarding on their first day together.

"It's fun, it's rewarding, it's educational," Glackman said about being a senior partner.

Like Rogers, Glackman said even the busiest person can find some time in his or her schedule to spend with a child or teen who stands to benefit greatly from the friendship.

"Three hours a week is nothing," Glackman said. "You don't need to alter your lifestyle. You can just have someone else to enjoy it with."

Senior partner Chris Selby describes mentoring as philanthropy through action.

"Some people have the means to give a lot of money to charities," Selby said. "Other people have their time, and you've got to believe you can create a difference in someone's life."

Being a mentor isn't being a parent, he said.

"It's much more fun," Selby said. "It's not all about serious life-and-death issues. I really enjoy it."

For more information about becoming a senior partner, call 879-6141 or visit www.partnersrouttcounty.org.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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