Today's young girls face a cacophony of negative self-talk, deflating "isms" and the impossible demand to look, act and dress like the photo-shopped waifs they see in the media. But, within the jumble of social and emotional pressure, there rumbles a movement. It's a movement of empowerment and confidence and it's being administered by a handful of local mentors—women who are determined to raise a generation of young women who are strong, smart and able to not just endure life but also to own it.
A widely quoted Pew Public/Private Ventures Study of 959 boys and girls showed that after 18 months with mentors, the children were 46 percent less likely to use drugs, 27 percent less likely to drink alcohol, 53 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely to hit someone.
Not a bad return on spending a few hours a week with a child.
The new generation will not only know that they can do it all, but they will know how, because of these mentors. Here are some of the women who are making the difference in our children's lives in the Wood River Valley.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
"I never had children myself, but I do know how fragile children are to the words and actions of others," said Bellevue resident Lee Hoffley, a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. "One sentence can sometimes make their life totally different and better."
Hoffley, who has been a mentor to a 10-year-old Little Sister for just over a year, knows that offering encouragement to an impressionable young girl is perhaps one of her most important tasks as mentor. Like many young girls, Hoffley's Little Sister is insecure about her looks, not having enough money and not being smart enough to do the things she dreams of doing.
"I tell her, 'You can do and be anything you set your sights on,'" Hoffley said. "I want to encourage her so she can see beyond the boundaries that have been imposed on her by her circumstances."
For Hoffley, mentoring is about being in the moment. Their time together may be a lunch date and a movie, snow tubing on Dollar Mountain, hiking or playing Scrabble and Monopoly. Sometimes they wade through the Big Wood River and get down on their hands and knees to look at bugs and collect snails.
"We have a ball when we're together," Hoffley said. "I get to do things that I haven't done since I was a kid, things that maybe I take for granted but are really special for her. It keeps me young and I know I can have a positive influence on someone."
Hoffley worries about the valley's youth and their level of precociousness.
"They are so worldly about sex and drugs and other adult things that 10-year-olds don't need to know about," she said. "I just think the more adult support a child can have in their lives, the better.
"Some parents can't do it all, and if someone else can give them a hand by being a Big Sister or Big Brothers--well, adults may not think they have anything to offer, but they do, in ways they may not even know."
She said about her current Little Sister, "I will be her Big Sister until she doesn't want to be with me anymore. I would like to watch her grow into a young woman and go off to college."
But if her Little Sister ever moved on, Hoffley would help out another girl "in a heartbeat," she said, adding with a laugh, "I already have somebody in mind."
Clubs like 4-H, which stands for “head, heart, hands and health” are built on the model of mentoring. Unlike teaching, which has a core message to convey, mentoring requires using group wisdom and individual experience to nurture members to independent thinking. Above, 4-H leaders Susie Lambert (also a Girl Scout leader) and Christine Leslie oversee a variety of ages, who create a self-governing system for meetings. Express photo by David N. Seelig
4 H Club
Christine Leslie is a believer that even one person can make a difference.
"I think that's why I do this. I want to make a difference by being part of their daily life. Reaching out to other kids and showing that I do care is worthwhile," she said. "It's about paying it forward. Someone helps you and tomorrow you can help somebody else who needs a hand."
Already a busy mom of two daughters, ages 11 and 13, and a teacher at Bellevue Elementary School, Leslie became a volunteer leader with the Blaine County 4H club three years ago. She mentors girls and boys ranging from 7 to 13 years of age and works to learn about responsibility, integrity, service and stick-to-it-ive-ness as they raise, care for and show their animals.
"4H stands for head, heart, hands and health," she said, referring to the organization's pledge to "use the head for clear thinking, heart for greater loyalty, hands for larger service and health for better living."
She likes to sit back and watch the kids run the meetings and take responsibility.
"The cooperation and taking turns, and problem solving, and compromises--it's absolutely wonderful," she said. "And then to see them use those skills out on the playground and in the classroom, it's really lovely to watch. I often feel we adults learn more from them than we teach them."
She delights that some of the girls she has mentored are now mentoring younger children in the group.
"The little kids now look up to them. That's the next step of the journey, when they can teach the skills they've learned. It's completing the circle of student to teacher to mentor back to student, and so on.
"I tell the kids, 'Wherever you are just be present in that moment, because you might not ever get it back.'"
Girls on the Run of the Wood River Valley
Mary Fauth remembers the difference a mentor made for her as she was growing up.
"I had an aunt who was always very in tune with our interests," she said. "She would put a goal in front of me and say, 'You are going to college,' or 'You are really good at that,' and so I had that one person who mentored me and made a point of reaching out and making a difference in my life."
Today, the Hailey resident finds herself in sort of a pay-it-forward position as executive director of Girls on the Run, where she and other mentors help hundreds of young, impressionable girls learn about dreams, strength and accomplishment, all disguised as training to run a 5K race.
The girls come in all shapes, sizes and athletic ability and together they tackle issues such as making positive choices for themselves, maintaining positive self-talk and attitudes, eating well, taking care of their bodies, peer pressure and acknowledging their emotions. The girls end the season with the race on May 21 at Heagle Park in Hailey.
Fauth recalls how her group worked together to help a girl who had been bullied at home and then took it out on another group member.
"We happened to be talking about bullying in the group session and I saw the light bulb kind of go on for her, like "is that what I've been doing?'" Fauth recalled. "She pulled me aside and said, 'Mary, this is what happens to me at home,' and then admitted that she hadn't been nice with someone else. I offered her the opportunity to share that with the group if she wanted to. She did, and the group rallied around her. That was last year, and this year I see that she is much more settled and sure of herself and who she is."
Fauth said teachers have noticed the skills learned in Girls on the Run spilling over into the academic work, and mothers have told her their daughters are much more confident and strong.
"It's all about knowing they are beautiful on the inside, strong and they can do just about anything at this time of their life."
"I never turn my back on a young person," said Midge Patzer. "I mentor constantly. Whether it's on the mountain or in a coffee shop, I try to spend my days as powerfully as I can."
Patzer, a former Wood River High School teacher, said that in her 30-year teaching career she has worked with "literally thousands" of young students. Today, she is a life coach helping people of all ages embrace personal power in their lives. Patzer describes "personal power" as internal confidence, integrity, dignity, respect, truth and responsibility.
"I teach tools on building self-esteem, dealing with anger and relationships," she said. "I don't try to change a young lady. I embrace her life as it is, but offer tools that might take her in a direction she didn't know was available, into a world that's more powerful."
She helps students learn how the powers of forgiveness and acceptance can overcome the power of hate. She teaches them how to find the confidence to believe in themselves; to know they deserve respect and love, and they should never accept less.