Adults don't always realize what an influence they have on children. The right words can boost a child's ego, while careless ones can send them plummeting.
Studies have shown that the right adult influence can improve a child's grades, self-esteem and their resistance to at-risk behaviors.
That positive influence, whatever its form, is the focus of attention this month during National Mentoring Month.
People are asked to consider the mentors in their lives -- teachers, coaches, parents or clergy -- anyone who has made a difference in their life path.
Purple ribbons have been tied to trees across town to remind people to remember that influence and to pass it on.
In Moffat County, Partners is a formal program that matches youth with adult mentors. The focus is prevention through a supportive relationship.
There are currently 13 youth matched with adult partners and around 40 on a waiting list. Other adult volunteers work with the unmatched youth in group activities, providing a positive influence on a more widespread scale.
Group activities fall into three categories: Recreational, educational and community service.
"The most important thing is the connection between youth and adults," said Melia Bisbee, case manager for Moffat County Partners.
The program used to offer social and life skills classes for 6- and 7-year-olds and female-specific classes and activities, but the funding for both those programs was cut.
While the group activities are beneficial, it's the one-on-one contact that makes the biggest difference, Bisbee said. That's why the program was established: not just to provide support during a crisis, but for the long term.
"If you're going to have that kind of positive relationship, it's very important that your influence is consistent and over a long period of time," she said. "That way, you're not generalizing your influence."
Adult volunteers must be willing to commit to spending at least three hours a week with a junior partner for a year.
But that's not the only commitment.
Adult partners are carefully screened, which means submitting to an extensive criminal, child protection and motor vehicle background check.
"First of all, you have to trust us with your information," Bisbee said. "And, we need people to be pretty sure of their overall position for a year. That way you're not disappointing a youth again."
Youth ages 8 to 17 are eligible for a senior partner. They can be referred to the program by parents, school officials, law enforcement, counselors or the justice system.
The only requirement is that there's a need.
Youth don't have to be involved with the criminal justice system to qualify. Several of Craig's junior partners may come from single parent homes where the parent is working multiple jobs. Others may be one of several siblings in a busy house and just aren't getting the attention they need.
Many junior partners are at risk for substance abuse or teen pregnancy, Bisbee said.
"Those are things that come from needing support and guidance and not having it," she said.
Partners also screens its youth.
"We can take most kids, but there are some who would be better served somewhere else," Bisbee said.
The program's aim is prevention, so measuring success is difficult, but Partners questions youth closely when they enter the program, and again after a year in the program.
In most cases, the youth's grades have improved, as well as their self-esteem. They're more loyal and less likely to get in trouble.
"You just have to have that extra support, someone that has time to listen and time to care," said Tara Jenrich, director of Moffat County Partners.
And then there are the success stories. Jenrich said she's heard a lot of success stories in the years she's been with the program.
One boy hugged her and said "thanks, cause I needed a grandpa." The boy was matched with an elderly couple because his single father worked several jobs.
"I always stress, our kids are not bad kids, not all are in trouble with the law. They just need that extra support," Jenrich said. "We're not here to take anything from parents, we just offer extra support and resources."
After a troubling event, other youth have come into Partners and said the program offered the support they needed and helped them make the right choices, Bisbee said.
"You can just see the difference by watching the kids, too," she said. "Senior partners say their junior partner was depressed, disorganized, hyper or rude. Now they speak more openly.
"Those things are subtle, you have to know someone well to notice the difference. It's something you have to wait for."
Adult volunteers also reflect positive changes.
"I've always gotten as much out of my job -- more -- than the youth do," Bisbee said.
That's why this month's theme is mentoring in general, not just youth mentoring.
"The theme is 'Who mentored you? Thank them and then pass it on to the next generation,'" Bisbee said. "Think about when you were in the youth's shoes."
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.