When Pueblo native Annette Charron returned to her hometown following a successful career as an English educator in California and Eastern Europe, she knew she wanted to keep working with kids. She found the United Way of Pueblo County’s Middle School Mentoring Program via an article in The Pueblo Chieftain.
Charron was concerned, however, that building those connections could be a challenge. Then she met her mentee, Obrinna Cano, who was in sixth grade at the time. They got more at ease with one another as their connection progressed.
“Ultimately, it’s been a blessing. I feel close to Obrinna, and I am invested in being a sounding board of support for years to come,” Charron said.
With the blessing and agreement of Cano and her guardian, the pair maintained their strong bond as Cano entered high school. Instead of the weekly lunches during middle school, Charron picked up Cano after school and went for a snack or coffee to catch up and talk about life. Charron introduced Cano to new experiences, including ballet and musicals.
Charron said mentoring relationships, like parenting, have ups and downs. The mentor and mentee must remain dedicated to one other. A steady influence might make a difference for a mentee who lacks stability at home.
Just ask Cano.
“I would recommend mentoring,” said Cano, now a senior in high school. “It is very nice and helpful, as it can be an escape. It may take time for the mentee to (connect with) the mentor, but I feel younger people should do it because they might like it as much as I liked … it.”
Mentorship has quickly become critical to the Pueblo youth community. Mentors are available to assist kids in elementary, middle and high school, as well as youths involved in foster care and the judicial system.
Tanya Simental is the mentoring and youth engagement manager for the United Way of Pueblo County and the Pueblo Mentoring Collaborative (PMC), which began in 2012. In 2021, she said, the program connected with 128 families in search of a mentor.
The mentoring collaborative works to “build on current resources and address gaps in mentoring by building a community-wide system for communication and engaging, supporting and sustaining quality mentoring for Pueblo youth, young adults and families,” according to its website.
Trust, hope and growth are the foundations of a mentor-mentee relationship, according to the United Way; Pueblo School District 60 and Pueblo County School District 70 work closely to ensure the safety of both mentors and mentees.
Several supporting organizations, like the First Presbyterian Church at 220 W. 10th St., have mentorship programs. The church joined the PMC in 2012.
Roger Ganger is the program coordinator for the church and a longtime member of the PMC steering committee. He helps oversee the mentorship programs at Risley Middle School and Beulah Heights Elementary School.
“It has been a good program for the church and we are glad we can provide the service,” he said.
At Risley, mentors and mentees work one-on-one with approaches like face-to-face conversations and tutoring if needed.
The Reading Buddies program at Beulah Heights has mentors from the congregation read to second- and third-grade students. The students choose the books, Granger said.
“It’s about (the mentors) being with the kids and giving them someone to provide some feedback,” he said. “Some of them are pretty quiet and shy. After about six or seven times of visiting, they start opening up a little bit. We’ve had a couple, two or three, that just can’t stop talking.”
Ganger said the reading program has received a positive response. The children appear to love it and are eager for the mentors to arrive.
Coming full circle
Southern Colorado Youth Development is another PMC partner. The organization serves youths ages 10 to 18. SCYD’s Executive Director Mike Riley noted that the organization works with adolescents through therapeutic mentoring and provides supporting life skills engagement.
SCYD has Motovate, a mentoring program that teaches kids to ride dirt motorcycles. Participants attend 21 classes over the course of three to four months; the program includes outside activities.
SCYD also provides one-on-one therapy. Mentors meet with each adolescent to discuss education and life. For adolescents involved in the court system, SCYD works to set and achieve goals to help them get out of the bad and into the good.
“We’ve had individuals come back, now in their late teens to early 20s, that give us the feedback about how much the program impacted them,” Riley said. “They want to come back, do peer mentoring and help the youth that we’re working with now since they were in their shoes a few years ago.”
Youngsters can also come to the youth center at 2828 Granada Blvd. for mentorship and to utilize the computers and free Wi-Fi, Riley said. He added that the agency tries not to turn down any applicants.
A healthful advocate
The PMC includes the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment. Sarah Martinez works in youth substance abuse prevention at the department and is involved with the work in the PMC.
Communities That Care is a department program of local youth advisers that provide peer voices and guidance while developing professional and community skills. The young advisers just concluded training on successful interpersonal relations and challenging dialogues.
Martinez has witnessed some of the coalition’s young advisers improve personally and professionally.
“Watching them gain skills, become more confident and really take an active role in improving our community has made me tremendously proud and inspired,” she wrote in an email. “If all youth had at least one trusted and caring adult to talk to and learn from, I truly think our community would be healthier and happier.”
What has mentor Charron learned during her experience?
“I’ve decided that it really doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old; you can make a difference in a young person’s life,” she said. “There are things that young mentors offer the mentees that are really valuable, but older mentors or retirees have a lot of life experiences about different things and different ways to offer (help) to middle school students.”