Giving Thought: Supporting children and their families through the Buddy Program | AspenTimes.com
Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

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Giving Thought: Supporting children and their families through the Buddy Program

Most successful adults can name at least one person — a teacher, coach, boss or family friend — who mentored them as kids and guided them into adulthood.

By matching young people with mentors, the Buddy Program has supported local youths and their families for 44 years. Lindsay Lofaro joined the nonprofit 14 years ago as a case manager and became executive director in 2016. She says there's a lot more to the Buddy Program than just pairing kids with Big Buddies.

Aspen Community Foundation: Please tell us about the origins of the Buddy Program.

Lindsay Lofaro: We trace our roots to the early 1970s, when Gregg Anderson, who was working in the local mental health clinic at the time, noticed that many of his clients were single mothers with young boys. He had been a Big Brother in college through Big Brothers Big Sisters, so he started a grassroots form of mentoring in Aspen. The organization was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 1989.

In 2016, we served 577 kids, including 150 high school mentors and an additional 141 adult volunteers. This all happens through the efforts of our staff setting up our families and our mentors for success, and ensuring those kids can thrive — not just in their mentoring relationship, but in life.

This is important because being a parent is hard work, especially around here. A lot of local families are isolated from their extended family networks. They might be new to the country and still learning the language and the culture. They might be single parents. In many families, both parents are working multiple jobs with long commutes. Whatever the struggle, the Buddy Program is here to support the family, especially the child.

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ACF: Most readers are familiar with the Buddy Program's basic format. Tell us something we don't know about the organization.

LL: A lot of people assume that we match a child with a mentor, and they're off on their own. Our job is to ensure the relationship is meaningful and long-lasting. Our case managers work closely with the families and the mentors to ensure that happens. We want to ensure the families have all of their needs met, so we refer and collaborate with other organizations — the Family Resource Centers in the Roaring Fork School District, Aspen Family Connections, the Pitkin and Eagle county departments of human services. If there's a need, we can provide scholarships for extracurricular activities for participating youth, as well as provide counseling for a child or the family.

In early June, we had 10 Little Buddies graduate from high school who have been matched with a mentor for a combined total of 90 years. A lot of these relationships have lasted since elementary school. The depth and meaning of these relationships … I don't even know how to verbalize it.

ACF: Has the advent of Trumpism affected the way you do your work?

LL: When (President Donald) Trump was elected, the Roaring Fork School District put together a collaborative group of agencies that work with youth and families. Many families were feeling a lot of fear and uncertainty, so we wanted our staff and mentors to know what kinds of questions their Little Buddies might ask. We wanted to be on the same page with other organizations and help to allay some of those fears.

The Buddy Program is fortunate to have great local support, so we don't have to go after any federal or state funding. Nonetheless, we have been asking whether some of the organizations we work with will see holes in their funding during the Trump administration. Can we help fill any of those gaps? How do we make sure our children and their families have all the resources they need?

ACF: What's ahead for the Buddy Program?

LL: In 2010 we expanded our services into Carbondale. I think there's a tremendous opportunity to grow in Carbondale and possibly beyond.

We launched our (Leadership through Exploration, Action and Discovery program) in 2014, providing group mentoring to teens throughout the valley. We offer an outdoor leadership course at two high schools and two middle schools and additionally provide two weeklong summer camps and monthly activities for teens. This program has seen wild success with youth participating in more than 300 hours annually and going on to become mentors themselves. I feel there is room to grow this program, as well.

Additionally, Mentor Colorado is a 3-year-old statewide umbrella organization that provides support to local mentoring organizations. Their support has allowed us to continue to grow in a way that's about quality and best practices. They've also helped spread awareness statewide about the importance of mentoring. With their continued support, it is exciting to think about where we go next!

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.