The Buddy Program keeps touching lives

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Carbondale resident Matt Brockman and Aspen High School senior Jorge E. have been each other's 'Big Buddy' and 'Little Buddy' for 10 years through The Buddy Program.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Ten years ago, 30-something-year-old Matt Brockman registered 7-year-old Jorge E. to play in his first soccer league.

At the time, Brockman knew little about Jorge beyond what his Buddy Program application read: “soccer, skateboarding, snowboarding.”

Fast forward a decade and Brockman and Jorge are having a serious conversation about where the Aspen High School senior — and No. 3-ranked player in his school’s Western Slope athletic conference — should play soccer in college.

Brockman and Jorge were paired together as Big Buddy and Little Buddy in 2006 through the Buddy Program’s 40-plus-year-old mentor organization.

This month, the Buddy Program is celebrating National Mentoring Month for its 15th consecutive year. Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron signed a proclamation at Monday night’s City Council meeting recognizing January as National Mentoring month. Skadron joins the mayors of cities such as New York, Chicago and Boston in acknowledging the need for mentors and volunteers.

Brockman said his wife at the time suggested he volunteer as a mentor because she thought it may be something he enjoys.

Evans said the suggestion of spouses is a common way that volunteers initially get involved with the Buddy Program.

Brockman had a friend who worked at the Buddy Program, and the friend helped him better understand the nonprofit organization.

“I said, ‘I’m a 30-year-old, semi-selfish guy without kids yet. What’s this going to be like?’” Brockman said.

Ten years later, Brockman said he has learned invaluable life lessons through his relationship with Jorge, including how to be present and in tune with others.

“Jorge taught me how to shut other stuff off and focus on him — someone other than myself,” Brockman said. “There’s just no other way to put it.”

Jorge’s older sister, who also had a Big Buddy through the Buddy Program, was the one who suggested her little brother partake in the program due to their parents’ crazy work schedules.

Jorge’s father used to work from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., while his mother juggled a shift from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

“It was always just one of them at home. Never both,” Jorge said, adding that whichever parent was home was often tired but also had parental responsibilities to see to around the house, like laundry and cleaning.

“Jorge’s always had great parents,” Brockman said. “They just worked long, hard hours.”

Evans said a common misconception of the Buddy Program is that it serves “needy” or underprivileged children.

But that isn’t the case.

“We don’t serve just one certain type of child,” Evans said. “The Buddy Program works with families from all walks of life.”

Evans said that every child can benefit from a mentor relationship, and also made clear that a mentor isn’t intended to be a parental figure in any way.

“A mentor is meant to be just that — someone kids can look up to, feel comfortable talking to and just hang out with,” Evans said.

Aside from playing soccer, Brockman and Jorge love to skateboard, snowboard, swim, bowl, go to the movies and grab food together.

Some of their favorite dining spots include El Korita Mexican Restaurant, Smoke Modern Barbecue and New York Pizza.

“Matt has been very moved by his relationship with Jorge,” Evans said. “And Jorge has without a doubt gained so much in return from Matt.”

Bockman will watch his Little Buddy graduate from Aspen High School this spring and play soccer at Mesa University in Grand Junction in the fall.

Jorge said the university fits his criteria in that it’s Division II, and “not too big or too far from home.”

What they do

The organization offers a host of mentoring programs, including its peer-to-peer program in which high school students mentor elementary and middle school students, and a school-based program in which an adult volunteer and youth meet one on one once per week during the school year.

In The Buddy Program’s LEAD: Leadership through Exploration, Action and Development program, youth in grades eight through 12 meet monthly to partake in fun activities that also are physically demanding, Evans said. The goal behind its Leadership through Exploration, Action and Development program is to push youth beyond their physical comfort zones as a way of also challenging their inner comfort zone, mind and heart, Evans said. Some of the Leadership through Exploration, Action and Development activities include hut trips, rock climbing, a camping trip to Moab, Utah, and more.

Finally, the Buddy Program’s more traditional mentor model is its community program, which is an adult volunteer paired with a youth, like Jorge and Brockman.

The Buddy Program also will host a Mentor and Mingle event at bb’s Kitchen from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21, where members of the community may learn more about becoming a Big Buddy.