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The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

Program pairs caring adults with kids in need of extra support

Daniel Minich (right), CSU Pueblo digital donor engagement coordinator, meets with his mentee at Pueblo West High School. Minich volunteers to mentor the child through a United Way of Pueblo County program that pairs children in need with caring adults. [Today photo/David Moody]

United through mentorship

By Hailee Langowski

Tanya Simental can recite the story from memory. Tommy, a middle school student who suffered from depression and anxiety, was in trouble. Although he had a loving mother and a supportive teaching environment, he didn’t feel comfortable expressing his feelings. When Tommy’s school partnered with the United Way Mentorship program to pair students with mentors, Tommy (whose name, age and school are not being disclosed to protect his identity) registered.

His mother reportedly saw changes in his behavior and attitude within a week. The boy told his mother that, before meeting his mentor and growing the bond, he considered taking his own life. He purportedly imagined what it would be like if he were no longer present.
Everything changed after he met his mentor. He felt like he had a purpose in life and was much happier, Simental, the manager of the United Way of Pueblo County’s Mentoring and Youth Engagement program, said.

The United Way of Pueblo is a non-profit organization that serves Pueblo residents with agency resources. The Middle School Mentoring program pairs nurturing mentors with middle school students in Pueblo.

The relationship becomes so strong and important in both the mentor and mentee’s lives that even after our program ends, middle school ends and with the transition through high school, they stay connected. — Tanya Simental, United Way of Pueblo County Mentoring and Youth Engagement manager

The initiative demonstrates how mentoring has a positive impact on youth. They collaborate with Pueblo School District 60 and Pueblo County School District 70 to identify students who may require more guidance. The schools assist in identifying mentees who would benefit from the program, such as those who come from a single-parent household, are dealing with a recent death in the family, have experienced trauma, have made difficult relationship decisions or have had their grades or attendance fluctuate. 

A volunteer mentor meets with their mentee once a week for about an hour at school, often during the student’s lunch break. Mentors must be 21 years old or older, have no criminal history or record and commit to mentoring for at least one academic school year. 

New mentors are usually matched with incoming sixth-graders in the program. The one-year commitment allows possibilities for the mentor to stay with the mentee throughout middle school.

“The relationship becomes so strong and important in both the mentor and mentee’s lives,” Simental explained, “that even after our program ends, middle school ends and with the transition through high school, they stay connected.”

Mentors that are dedicated and consistent are needed for the program. The United Way doesn’t want to pair a mentor who decides the program isn’t right. Patience is essential as the mentor-mentee connection develops. Mentors must be comfortable with technology, a good listener, responsive to the mentee’s needs and willing to learn and grow.

Daniel Minich is a United Way mentor and the Digital Donor Engagement coordinator at CSU Pueblo. When his mentee confesses his middle school struggles, Minich emphasizes the importance of listening. He also reveals that they almost always play chess when they meet.

“He chose chess, and I knew nothing about it. He’s teaching me how to play!” Minich said. They are not necessarily doing schoolwork, but they are spending time together. 

“I have the opportunity to help my mentee come into his own skin and realize even though middle school sucks, it’s not the rest of your life,” Minich added. They can bond over shared experiences and teach one other new skills.

What are the steps to becoming a mentor? A background check, two interviews, a review of personal references and a two-hour mentor orientation course. The United Way hires a mentoring consultant to train and equip the adults for mentorship training. Throughout the year, mentors can participate in ongoing educational opportunities related to communication, suicide prevention, improving listening skills and motivational interviewing through programs such as Mentor National and Mentor Colorado. 

Mentors can become engrossed in their own lives, but mentoring forces them to step back and listen to their perspectives, dreams, hopes and goals, Simental said.

Another mentor in the program is Dr. Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology at CSU Pueblo. When they first met, her mentee was in sixth grade, and she is now in eighth. Reynolds-Senson discusses how mentoring helps her balance her personal and professional lives. 

“Even in the busiest of weeks, taking that moment out of my day to go and meet with my mentee is always, not just a positive experience for her, but for me too.” Reynolds-Stenson believes it is beneficial for her to take a break from the stresses of life to walk and talk with her mentee.

Lend a hand: To learn more about the United Way’s middle school mentorship program, visit www.pueblounitedway.org/mentor for information and a mentor application, or contact Tanya Simental. Phone number: 719-225-8580, option 6 or email: [email protected]

Tanya Simental, the manager of the United Way of Pueblo County’s Mentoring and Youth Engagement program, meets with her mentee at Pueblo West Middle School. The relationships that form between volunteer mentors and their young charges often outlasts the three years kids are in middle school, Simental says. [Today photo/David Moody]
What role can CSU Pueblo play in the United Way Mentorship program? According to Simental, the campus can take two actions: First, to urge CSU Pueblo faculty and staff to consider being mentors. Many mentors at the college are professors or are in positions of leadership. Seminal stated that she’d like to see leadership embrace and encourage more employees and executives to volunteer in this unique and effective way.

Second, CSU Pueblo students are also encouraged to take on a mentor role. College students, understandably, may not have the time, but spreading the word is just as important. Students at CSU Pueblo are likely to have been mentored by someone else, so they may be aware of the positive, powerful and supportive people they could recommend as a mentor. A connection is constantly waiting to be made.
All humans must have a social connection; we can suffer mentally and even physically if we don’t have that, Simental said. 

“It’s beautiful we can put together an environment where those connections can be made,” she said.

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