Mentoring program needs funding

Loss of grant money could sink local AmeriCorps group

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— A program that provides mentors to students in Routt County middle schools is in serious jeopardy because of a lack of funding, its new director said Wednesday.

Lane Malone, executive director of Partners in Routt County, said $77,000 in annual federal funding is about to run out for the local AmeriCorps program. For the past five years, the program has placed two adults, usually in their 20s, in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt middle schools. The school-based mentors provide tutoring, act--ivities and community service opportunities for students on a daily basis at a minimal cost to the school districts.

"They support kids in informal ways that regular staff members can't," Steamboat Springs Middle School counselor Margi Briggs-Casson said about the school's two mentors, Kyleigh DeMicco and Tim Gillespie. "Kyleigh and Tim are invaluable assets to the school."

School administrators in Hayden and South Routt have expressed similar sentiments about the work of AmeriCorps mentors.

In return for their 1,700 hours of service at local schools, the six Routt County mentors receive a weekly stipend of $300 and a one-time award of $4,725 that can be used for student loans or future school tuition.

Malone said the $77,000 in federal grants has funded the weekly stipends, money that makes it possible for the AmeriCorps mentors to live in Routt County. The loss of that money is making it difficult to recruit new mentors for next year, especially with Steamboat's high cost of living.

"It's really made the applicant pool shrink," AmeriCorps program director Hillary Ackerman said.

At this time last year, there were about 150 applicants for mentoring positions that began in August, Ackerman said. This year, there are 14 applicants.

"The first thing they ask about is the stipend," Ackerman said.

Ackerman works for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which has run the AmeriCorps program since its inception, but is transferring that management responsibility to Partners. Malone said Partners will be able to continue funding Ackerman's position and the monetary education awards for AmeriCorps mentors through a $10,000 grant from the Denver-based Daniels Fund and local support from United Way, the Human Resources Coalition and the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation.

To offset the likely loss of the weekly stipends, Malone is searching for "creative resources" from the community, such as housing assistance or other donations.

"This is definitely an urgent plea for help," Malone said. "You can't rely on fickle federal funds."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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