For the week of June 17 thru June 23, 1998  

Growing up with a mentor

Teens find some adults aren’t so bad after all

Express Staff Writer

j17ment.gif (21166 bytes)Eighth-grader Paige Askew has a vision of what she considers to be important.

"I love animals, and we’re helping dogs and cats find homes. I think this project is good for the community because it makes people happier having a furry pal," she said, describing her project as a member of Bolder Options.

The Women’s Resource Center launched Bolder Options, the valley’s first mentor program for teenagers in the Wood River Valley. It pairs adult mentors with teenagers to work on community projects tied into their interests.

Community projects include writing a reference booklet for sites on the World Wide Web that list opportunities to volunteer or work with the environment, visiting with residents of Blaine Manor nursing home; and collecting necessities for families in need.

"Our goal is to provide an opportunity for teens to play an essential role in the community," said Women’s Resource Center director Lisa Laajala. "We want them to have hope for the future, to have an idea of where they fit into the community."

An advisory committee was formed with representatives from the Blaine County School District, Wood River Medical Center, the Juvenile Probation Department, South Central District Health Department, Wood River Counseling Center, Center for Family Solutions, the Safe and Drug Free Schools Advisory Committee, and the Women’s Resource Center.

The committee received a grant to prevent substance abuse in rural communities from the National Women’s Resource Center in Washington D.C., and decided to focus on youth.

"It’s taken a long time to develop the concept," said Laajala, of the program that evolved through two years of planning. "The idea is to offer teens a bolder or better option than drugs or alcohol."

"They’re wonderful grown-ups." Paige Askew

The advisory committee hand-picked the mentors and their proteges to insure a successful pilot group.

"We created a profile of the ideal mentor, and recruited those who have a strong desire to be a significant role model to youth, are experienced with teens, and are fun and creative," said Laajala.

All animal lovers, Askew and her mentor Marilyn Bauer joined mentors Colleen Runyen and Mark Acker, and teenager April Scafidi to find families for homeless animals.

Armed with pen and paper, Scafidi and Askew visited the Wood River Animal Shelter to interview animals and create "roommate wanted" ads to place in local businesses. The prospective roommates are profiled with their pictures, and showcased in wooden frames crafted by Acker.

Scafidi and Askew both love working with animals, and agree that their mentors aren’t so bad themselves.

"They’re wonderful grown-ups," said Askew. "They treat us like normal people, and are happy to work with us; they’re more like friends."

"There’s all this energy among five people who love animals," said Bauer, who has volunteered with children the past 15 years. "Volunteerism has been a significant part of my life," she said.

A reverence for volunteer work is a common thread among the mentors. Mentor Tim Mulligan said he was exposed to volunteering at an early age because his mother was a social worker. "I was always involved somehow," he said.

Mulligan and high school freshman Scott Neiwert joined with Margaret Kraft and seventh-grader Ashley Vore to collect necessities and "fun stuff," such as a bike or swimming pool, for three needy families in Blaine County.

"Ashley really wanted to help families in some way, and we fine-tuned what we were going to do," said Kraft. The group will work on "project collect" throughout the summer.

"I hope we’re successful, and we can set up three families nicely. I hope the kids get a lot out of seeing the project from beginning to the end," said Mulligan.

Each project spans a different amount of time, but the pilot group will finish in mid-August with a celebration. The pairs are welcome to begin another project, or pass the project on to another group.

"It’s important to recognize the work they’ve done," said Laajala, who envisions Bolder Options to be an integral part of every student’s education, a project they complete before high school graduation.

"It’s a good idea," said Scafidi. "Lots of kids in this valley have nothing to do, and this is a way to get involved in our community."

Askew agreed. "Bolder Options will work. It’s an opportunity to do fun activities, meet other people, and it keeps us busy," she said.


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