Giving Thought: Beneficial guidance at the right time in life
Since 2014, Stepping Stones of the Roaring Fork Valley has been providing community-focused mentoring services for teens at their drop-in center in Carbondale. Recently, the growing organization added services for middle-schoolers.
Executive Director Kyle Crawley and Assistant Director Jonathan Greener believe that strong, long-term relationships with positive adult role models are the key to empowering youth and building a healthy community.
Aspen Community Foundation: Why offer these after-school, drop-in services to middle school kids?
Kyle Crawley: There are a couple of reasons. First, we have dealt with a lot of crises and challenges in the teen population, and we thought we could get ahead of the curve by starting mentor relationships earlier. That way, when kids face challenges in their teens, we would already have begun a strong rapport with them.
Also, there’s a gap in services for the middle school population. There are lots of services for younger kids and at-risk teens, but middle-schoolers are kind of left in a no-man’s land.
Jonathan Greener: Also, there’s a lot of research about the impact of mentoring at this age. It decreases substance use and increases school and extracurricular engagement. It increases the likelihood that kids will take leadership positions in the future.
ACF: Can you tell us a couple of success stories?
KC: It’s hard because each kid is so unique. But, for example, we have kids who struggle socially and don’t feel connected to the community. They can come here, feel comfortable in our space, engage socially — we have a really strong, inclusive peer culture — then they can branch out, build confidence, enroll in sports and arts programs and other things to engage with people around them.
We also see kids who struggle with things like substance use. They learn to talk about their struggles, about relapse and family challenges. We recently worked closely with a young man who got a scholarship to Colorado Mountain College through our scholarship fund. He is taking classes and has been clean and sober for six months. His trajectory has shifted and I think part of the reason is the connection we’ve had with him.
ACF: How do you define youth mentoring, and why is it so important?
KC: Stepping Stones’ mentoring model focuses on long-term consistent relationships with youth. Our staff spends between eight to 10 hours per week with many of our youth. This allows us to have deep and meaningful relationships with them and their families. We maintain a 10-to-1 youth-mentor ratio every day at our drop-in centers and we actually accompany kids to medical appointments and haircuts, or to buy a baseball glove. We get really involved and all our services are free.
JG: Our team philosophy is that there’s no ownership over any youth or teen by any one adult mentor. Any young person is free to approach any adult here, essentially giving them five mentors.
ACF: Describe a typical afternoon/evening at Stepping Stones. How many kids are there and what are they doing?
JG: In the middle school space, the energy is pretty high and there’s lots of movement with kids going from activity to activity. It almost looks like a living organism of up to 20 young people playing games, doing homework, talking with the adults. We don’t have to steer it. It just happens.
KC: In the high school space, it’s more concrete and self-directed. A teen will come to get a bus pass, work on a job application, or focus on specific hobbies or goals, such as music production or structural engineering. Sometimes they just hang out, talk to mentors and decompress after school. We eat dinner together every night and then do it all over again the next day.
ACF: Can you envision a day when kids don’t need this help and Stepping Stones isn’t needed?
KC: There will always be challenges that come up for kids, and we want to be active in preventing them. Hopefully those crises happen less frequently with a program like ours in the community. But every kid is unique in his or her goals and challenges — it really is about meeting them on that individual level.
There’s so much you can never know about this work. We never really know if we prevented an overdose or a suicide, but I do believe we have. Just by being here and being a consistent presence in these kids’ lives, we know we’re having an impact.
We know this because, for example, our middle school mentoring program currently has a wait list. We have started a capital campaign in 2018 to raise funds to purchase or build a facility that would allow us to serve more youth in years to come.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
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