Steamboat Springs As the only child of a single mother, Nate Mauth didn't have a strong male influence in his life until he embarked on a snowmobiling trip sponsored by Partners in Routt County.
More than seven years later, the 17-year-old rising senior at Steamboat Springs High School considers the day he was partnered with 52-year-old Chris Wilson as one of the most significant days of his life.
"We are best buds for life," Mauth said. "When I get too old for Partners, we'll still get together to do stuff."
Mauth's and Wilson's pairing is the longest running relationship in the history of the Partners program, which connect adults and youths in a one-to-one mentorship.
Wilson, who is the director of Steamboat Springs's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, said Partners requires a one-year commitment from its junior and senior partners. It's a commitment Mauth quickly tried to extend.
"On the second meeting, Nathaniel would say, 'Chris, when it's time to decide, I think we ought to sign up for another year,'" Wilson said. "Every time we got together he'd say, 'You know, I think we need to sign up.'"
Thousands of hours have been spent mountain biking, ice skating, going to the movies and even a run on the Alpine slide at Howelsen Hill. Throw in parent-teacher conferences, talks about girls and homework reviews, and Wilson said it's like joining an extended family.
"I think the thing all of us need is adults that are in a young person's life that they are not related to," Wilson said. "It just helps provide that larger support base and different perspectives. If you look at the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, the school district and this program have really done a good job of supporting that theory."
Nanette Mauth, Nate's mother, said with Wilson in her son's life, he's become more mature, less introverted and more open to new ideas.
"This has been one of the best things for him," she said. "He got the male companionship and those things he never got at home."
Libby Foster, Partners' executive director, said the organization needs more men like Wilson who are able to give kids a sense of fun while also being there for other needs that are not being met.
"Kids really are looking for a friend, role model and advocate to go have fun," she said. "Chris is just so constantly there for Nathaniel. Saturday is their day, and a I'll be out running errands, and I'll just run across them - it's like clockwork."
Mauth said he'd like to become a mentor himself one day, while Wilson said he's unsure whether he'd partner again because Mauth will always be part of his life.
"It's a big commitment I've made to Nathaniel, and if you are not willing to make it, then it doesn't help anybody to pop in and out of somebody's life," he said. "That happens too much in today's society already."
No matter how much mentoring he provides to Mauth, Wilson said he's been rewarded ten-fold.
"One of the things that is best about the program is that it keeps you open-minded and more in touch with what it's like to be young in today's society versus when you grew up," he said. "That connection is important because so often we get divided into classes and don't really understand what is going on. That learning and sharing experience is really valuable to both of the parties to see the world in a fresh way."
On that first snowmobiling trip, Wilson said Mauth was a short kid who was afraid of speed and begged for him to slow down.
"Mauth-man," as Wilson calls him, is now nearly a head taller than his mentor and doesn't wince at speed.
"I'm taking you up to the quarry to go mountain biking this weekend. You better keep up," Mauth warned.
Wilson said he thinks Mauth is a special person who would be a great senior partner.
"He is open, he likes to have fun, he'll track you down and keep after you on stuff to make sure you follow through," he said. "It's developed into a friendship beyond the mentoring and program limits, but I'm not afraid to beat him up the hill biking."
For more information about Partners in Routt County, call Foster at 879-6141.