Living in one of the most expensive communities in the United States is challenging enough for adults, but for children whose families face economic, housing, or other challenges, Roaring Fork Valley can be an especially challenging experience.
That’s why the Roaring Fork Valley Friends Program has provided a valuable service to local youth, by connecting them with local adult volunteers to participate in activities and events they might not normally be able to access, as well as helping them befriend a trusted adult.
Horseback riding, gondola rides, theater performances, or even enjoying a cheeseburger together can be very important. Most importantly, time spent with a caring, committed adult mentor and friend, whether during a lunch break on a school day or outside in the community, helps build social skills and strengths that can last a lifetime – not to mention the life-spanning friendships between Big and Little Buddies.
Founded in 1973, the Buddy Program was created to meet the needs of our local mountain communities to provide mentors who act as a friend and mentor to the youth here, says Laura C., Senior Recruitment Manager and Development Coordinator.
Currently, the organization has about 100 pairs of adult friends and children from Aspen to Carbondale, although the Buddy program is also able to provide some services for children who have moved down the valley with their families. There is currently a “match list” of over twenty guys waiting for Big Buddy.
“We are looking for people who are reliable, committed, consistent, open-minded and really excited to connect with someone younger.” Seay says.
And while last year was the largest ever for new volunteers, the greatest current need for the Friends program, explains Inhwa Bogan, Director of the Mentoring Program, is to recruit a larger group of adult bilingual friends to better represent the changing demographics of Aspen and Aspen. The entire Roaring Fork Valley.
“We try to bring more equity to our volunteers and mentors, so we recruit people from more diverse backgrounds,” Bogan says. While the Friends program provides extensive services to Hispanic and Latino youth and their families, this is not well represented in the older adults themselves.
“We’ve been successful in making connections with other nonprofits in the Latinx community, as we’ve realized that our current system is based on a way to recruit volunteers who don’t necessarily work with other cultural communities,” Bogan adds. “In recent years, a lot of young professionals in the Latinx community have returned to work and live in the Valley, and we see tremendous opportunities through them.”
Seay explains that the Buddy Program provides two main opportunities for adult volunteers: community-based relationships that occur outside school hours, and school-based programs, which take place in local schools during lunch hours, once a week.
“We are always looking forward to the safety and well-being of our children, so consistency and commitment are critical,” Bojan says. “This means not giving up and being culturally humbled to work with such a diverse group of children. And our children are wonderful. We want them to learn and grow up healthy and have a role model outside of their families.”
Bujan and Seay have both experienced the benefits because they are also longtime volunteers with the program, developing lifelong relationships with Little Buddies as they grow into adults. “I appreciate that we were able to try many new activities together,” says Seay. “We did a pottery class together, which I had never done before and had the best time doing. We also got to ride horses, something I loved during my childhood, and were able to share this activity. I watched her grow and mature over 8 years. I feel that Every young person deserves a dedicated mentor and the Friends Program wants Valley Youth to have this experience.”