Giving Thought: A haven for teens after school | AspenTimes.com

Giving Thought: A haven for teens after school

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

When children are released from school, many of them find their way into trouble. Educators and counselors often wonder how to steer wayward children in a positive direction during those late-afternoon hours, and Stepping Stones in Carbondale offers a compelling model.

Stepping Stones executive director Kyle Crawley spent years in government social services on the Front Range before moving to Carbondale about a year and a half ago. He went to work at Stepping Stones to mentor and support young adults in a unique, non-bureaucratic, individualized environment.

Aspen Community Foundation: When was Stepping Stones founded and what was the impetus?

Kyle Crawley: Kristin Nelson founded Stepping Stones in 2014. She's a longtime valley resident who had worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The basic idea is that positive adult role models can play a crucial role in youth development. Many of our teens struggle with homelessness, substance abuse, food security and other things. We've tried to create a place where they feel comfortable to share their experiences and build strong relationships with the staff.

Our drop-in center is open Monday through Friday after school, from 3 to 6:30 p.m., and on early-release Wednesdays from 12 to 6 p.m. We do a lot of one-on-one tutoring, we support the kids with their homework and prepare them for tests. We prepare a home-cooked meal every night, and the kids help. Food security is an issue for a lot of these teens, so those dinners take a lot of stress off the families.

We also teach kids how to rent an apartment or fill out a job application. And basic life skills — how to keep a house, how to do the dishes, how to do your laundry.

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ACF: Can you describe a typical day at Stepping Stones?

KC: We have a staff of three adults who are in the house every day. Our mornings usually start with meetings, talking to donors, trying to build community support. There's also a lot of administrative work — talking about the kids and their needs, cleaning the house, grocery shopping for the meal that night, planning our activities for the day.

Around 3 p.m. the kids start to flow in after school. We have food, so they'll get snacks, and we'll talk to them about what's going on in their lives. One kid might play basketball, another might want to play video games, another needs help with homework. Every day is different — on Mondays we sometimes take kids to get haircuts; on early-release Wednesdays we have six hours with the kids, so this week we went to the rec center and played dodgeball.

We average about 19 to 20 kids per day. They come and go — four or five kids might come in after school, get a snack, get a bus pass and then go to work at Wendy's. In 2016, we had 4,362 drop-in visitors and we served 4,094 meals.

ACF: How do you pay your bills? Who supports your work financially?

KC: Our funding comes from a variety of places. Individual contributions are huge. We also receive government grants from counties and cities and a lot of support from local businesses and foundations like Aspen Community Foundation.

We also get tons of in-kind donations. Haircuts from Jul in Basalt, food from Lift-Up; we get winter clothing, jackets and snowshoes for our outdoor activities. Also kitchenware — anything you need in your house, people donate to us.

On Thursday, March 23, Aspen Skiing Co., The Little Nell, the St. Regis, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Hotel Jerome and Alchemy are doing a fundraiser for us. It's called the Great Chicken Wing Throwdown and it'll benefit four organizations that deal with homelessness and food security — Stepping Stones, Lift-Up, Feed My Sheep and Aspen Homeless Shelter. Tickets are still available.

ACF: What do you see in the future for Stepping Stones?

KC: In the short term, we want to add a middle school drop-in program in Carbondale. We're doing a spring break camp for middle schoolers, and we're planning to open drop-in hours this summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The idea is to get on the prevention side of things. Imagine if we'd worked with some of these high school kids in sixth grade,when they were first making difficult choices — maybe we could have prevented some of their bigger challenges.

Longer term, we'd love to have drop-in centers up and down the valley. We really believe in the power of having that welcoming community space that the kids take ownership of.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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