Giving Thought: Raising money now for year-round services

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Summer is an important time of year for virtually all Aspen nonprofits, but especially the Buddy Program, which raises about half of its annual budget at two upcoming annual fundraisers.

Celebrating its 45th year of matching adult mentors with local youths, the Buddy Program will stage the 32nd annual Boogie’s Buddy Race on Wednesday morning. On Friday, the Big Top Bash for the Buddies, another annual favorite held up on McLain Flats, will cap the holiday week.

Lindsay Lofaro, executive director of the Buddy Program, says summer is an important season for multiple reasons.

Aspen Community Foundation: Why is summer vital for your organization?

Lindsay Lofaro: Although we rely heavily on volunteers to be our mentors, or Big Buddies, it still requires a lot of support and management from our staff to set up these Buddy Pairs for success. Our matches stay together for an average of four-and-a-half years, compared to the national average of 23 months. That’s because of a strong staff ushering the Buddy Pairs through the evolution of their relationship. These events help us raise critical funds, and we really count on community support.

The longer a youth is involved with a mentor, the less likely he or she will be to use drugs and alcohol, and the more likely he or she will be to graduate high school and attend secondary education. Some of our Buddy Pairs stay together for eight to 10 years and celebrate high-school graduation together.

ACF: Is summer different programmatically than the rest of the year?

LL: Our Community Program, which involves adult volunteers who are matched with Little Buddies, happens year-round. We’re constantly recruiting new mentors, making matches and welcoming new youth and families to the program. There’s no cost to the youth or volunteers who participate. We provide activities for those pairs throughout the summer, including a potluck picnic in June for the children’s families and the Big Buddies, and a paddleboard activity in July. We also provide tickets for Buddy Pairs to go up the gondola on Aspen Mountain, and to attend ballet and theater performances, so the pairs can make plans on their own time.

Additionally, through our outdoor group mentoring programs, we have a June camp for high-school students and an August camp for middle school students. A lot of families need support in the summer and our free camps are a summer highlight for many kids.

ACF: Can you describe the programs and services you offer beyond mentoring?

LL: In 2017 we served more than 520 youth in our programs. In addition to the youth, we really wrap our services around the entire family. We have an amazing team of bilingual case managers, who can help a family navigate whatever resources they need. We offer counseling for kids and their families if they need it. Having a mentor in the form of a Big Buddy may just be one piece of the puzzle, so we work with many other organizations to ensure the families are healthy.

Also, twice a year we give scholarships to our Buddy Pairs for extracurricular activities. In April, we paid for a lot of Aspen Recreation Center passes, soccer camps and other programs to ensure the kids stay busy during the summer. They need a place to go that is safe and accessible, where they’re using their time constructively.

ACF: Tell us something we don’t know about youth in the valley.

LL: Last year we noticed an uptick in referrals coming from families that were experiencing domestic violence. We continue to see increased stress and fear in many of the immigrant families we work with.

I should say too that it makes an enormous difference in a child’s life to have at least one relationship with a trusted adult. It can be a parent or a Buddy or someone else. Some of our kids have one parent at home, but that parent probably juggles work, a commute and raising a family. Ensuring that local youths have someone to connect with is critical.

ACF: What’s on the drawing board?

LL: We recently received a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to expand our outdoor group mentoring program to Rifle. We collaborated with GOCO, Garfield County and other youth-oriented nonprofits, and in August we’ll offer our Outdoor Leadership classes at Rifle’s high school and middle school.

Currently we teach these classes at public high schools and middle schools in Basalt and Carbondale. They’re outdoor leadership classes but they’re really about life skills. Our staff members who teach the classes act as mentors to the kids as they explore the outdoors and design service learning projects on overnight and day trips. All of our scholarships and counseling opportunities are available to these kids, as well.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.