Making a difference

Mentors make positive changes

The two don't know it yet, but they're on the way to making huge differences in each other's lives.

Neil Folks has only been mentoring young Chris for a few weeks, but they're already getting acquainted. With a 53-year age difference, there's a lot of catching up to do.

"I like to snowboard, ride bike and play backgammon," Chris said enthusiastically. The latter was a game Folks only recently introduced to the youngster.

Chris and Folks are just one example of the successful partnerships happening at Moffat County Partners. It's the policy of Moffat County Partners not to disclose the names of young participants.

Older, "senior" partners, or mentors, are matched with "junior" proteges. The aim is to spend time together while senior mentors maintain the role of a positive driving force in a child's life.

"I had retired and I wanted to do something in the community," Folks said. "I enjoy working with young people. It's a very strong trend nationwide of men and fathers not being at home. I wanted to try to help that."

In conjunction with National Mentoring Month through the end of January, case manager Shirley Balleck of Moffat County Partners said the program is in need of at least 40 mentors. Nationwide, the need is quite a bit larger.

A Web site promoting National Mentoring Month estimates that 16 million children are in need of mentors, but only 500,000 have been paired with adult volunteers.

Statistics show children with an interested adult in their life are less likely to get in trouble and have more positive outcomes in their lives, according to the site. They're also less likely to use drugs and more likely to stay in school.

January is chosen as the national month partly to take advantage of New Year's resolutions.

The beginning of the year does seem to draw more potential mentors, Balleck said.

Unfortunately, only one of seven people who apply to be mentors ever make it that far. That's not to say those interested aren't qualified, Balleck said.

"Even after going through the screening process most people don't think they're good enough or have enough time," she said. "You don't have to have an IQ of 200."

"We've had people back out even when we told them they were perfect," she added.

That's one of the reasons Partners staffers are excited to have a volunteer on board like Folks.

Being a mentor only requires a time requirement of about two hours a week. Mentors are expected to complete at least one community service project a year with their junior partners. That could be something as simple as ringing the Salvation Army bell during the holidays.

Mentors are also required to teach two-life skill lessons, examples including phone etiquette or how to cook.

Moffat County Partners often offers potential mentors short biographies of a child to help determine compatibility.

For the most part, mentors have to be open and willing to want to make a difference in a child's life -- an easy request for Folks.

"My main goal is to find out his interests and help him with his homework," Folks said of Chris. "I want to help him do math and then help him to realize the importance of education."

Folks' experience with youth runs deep, but that doesn't necessarily need to fit into the profile of a mentor.

Folks worked in prisons with troubled youth and then with the local Advocates Support-Crises Services group. He decided to become a mentor to continue to offer skills, such as patience and simply the knowledge that comes with age.

"I'll try to introduce new things to him," Folks said smiling down on Chris as he fiddled with a game.

Later the two pulled out bingo and played until Chris triumphantly won the first round, and yelled out BINGO!

While Chris tried to act "cool" about the mentoring situation, the smile on his face showed his pleasure at having a new friend.

"I like him," Chris said, pointing to Folks. "I want to be like him when I grow up."


Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by email at ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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