Presents, and positive role models
VAIL MOUNTAIN – Gap-toothed smiles abounded at Adventure Ridge last Monday evening at the fourth annual Eagle County Buddy Mentors program Christmas party. Unfortunately, most of the kids at the soiree want more for Christmas than their two front teeth. But that’s where senior buddies can step in, providing quality time and a little life guidance year-round, not just during the holidays.Similar to the national Big Brother and Big Sister organizations, Buddy Mentors pairs almost 50 adults with youth in Eagle County to spend about three hours a week bowling, cooking or going to movies together, among other activities.Most junior buddies are referred to the program by a teacher or counselor who notices the child could use a little more positive influence in their life.”Most of our kids are referred to as ‘at risk,’ but I feel all kids could be considered ‘at risk,'” the program’s director, Scott Smith, said.About 120 guests, ages six through retirement, went snow tubing, ice skated, played laser tag and had a holiday meal at the party courtesy of Vail Resorts and several other local sponsors. Eleven-year-old Robby of Gypsum breathlessly chased his 13-year-old brother, Casey, back to the tubing lift line in the chilly night air Monday. (The Buddy Mentors program asked the kids last names be withheld.)”It’s fun, real fun,” Robby said of the party, which he also attended last year. “Especially tubing, you go real fast.”Seven-year-old Eagle resident Jose and his adult buddy, Paul Anderson of Avon, whizzed down the tubing hill in tandem, holding on to each other’s tubes.”We made it all the way (together)!” Jose exclaimed.”We go like, probably 180 miles (an hour),” he said, after Anderson pulled him back to the lift in his tube. Snowboarding plans
Later, while lacing up skates outside the ice rink, Anderson reflected on his time as a senior buddy.”I had some free time and it keeps me out of trouble once a week or so,” he said. “It’s super rewarding, the kids just fall in love with you so fast.”Anderson, 26, and Jose have been buddies for just over a year and have gone to Elitch Gardens amusement park in Denver and “lots of movies” together. They also go swimming and bowling, he said. Anderson got involved after a friend told him about the program and hearing a speaker last fall, he said. “Most of the time it’s just the two of us,” said Anderson, who calls Jose on a weekly basis to spend time together . “You know, he’s only seven, he doesn’t have a lot going on. His schedule is usually clear.”Anderson, a civil engineer, said the three-hours-per-week commitment to the program is easily achievable and he will likely stay involved for longer than the requested year.”The kids get attached,” he said, and “all their stories just break your heart.”This year, the pair hopes to go snowboarding together. Jose’s sister Jasmine, 9, also has a buddy in the program.More mentorsWith 47 buddy-mentor pairs, more than 30 children are on the program’s waiting list, Smith said.”We are always looking for mentors,” he said. “As soon as the list goes down, we make a phone call and it shoots right up.”Begun in the early 1980s, Buddy Mentors has grown each year, said advisory committee member Sheryl Jensen. The program is based out of the Eagle County Resource Center.
The Buddy Mentors’ biggest event of the year, the Christmas party, started four years ago with about 60 people in attendance. Vail Resorts donates all activities, employee time, coffee, hot chocolate and food for the evening.”It’s a huge donation, we couldn’t do it without them,” Jensen said. “A lot of kids have never been to Vail, some show up without gloves and a hat. It’s fun for them to have a night away and come up here.”People think we live in this great place and that there’s not kids in need. It’s our duty as people who live here to take care of them,” she said.The evening concluded with a sit-down turkey dinner and a visit from Santa, who came bearing individually wrapped gifts for each junior buddy on his sleigh, which strangely resembled a Ski Patrol snowmobile.Stuffed horses, lip glossThirteen-year-old Kika, of Avon, and her sister, 16-year-old Kayla, sat with Kika’s senior buddy Debbie Tennant at dinner. Though they appeared quiet and shy, the two girls burst into sporadic giggles with each other throughout dinner.”Kika and Kayla’s mom is a single mom,” said Tennant, whose 23-year-old daughter recently graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans. “I was a single mom, that’s why I like to help.”The girls’ is a “very good mother,” Tennant said, adding she will stay buddies with Kika “as long as it works.””It’s been very educational, I’ve learned a lot from my buddies,” she said. “They think nothing of having 10 people living in a trailer.”Kika carefully peeled back blue wrapping paper to reveal a box of smaller wrapped gifts – a purse, stuffed horse and lip gloss.Alfredo, a slight 6-year-old from Edwards, tore open a box half his size. His eyes were wide as he pulled out action figures, art supplies and candy.Alfredo sat with his brother Miguel, 12, and Miguel’s buddy, Alan McLean, of Vail.
As Alfredo intently opened an M&M-filled plastic candy cane, he said his favorite part of the night was laser tag.’A tough time’With waist-long blond pigtails swinging, Samantha, 10, of Eagle-Vail, beamed as she received a large shopping bag. She peeked inside but decided to save the present.”I’m waiting ’til I get home so my mom can see,” she said.Her first year in buddy program, Samantha’s buddy moved away and she is now on waiting list. Jan Attoma, of Edwards, volunteered with several others to be a buddy for the night and shared the evening with Samantha.”I knew it would be fun,” Attoma said.Buddy Mentors organizers hope volunteers like Attoma will attract more senior buddies to the program.”A lot of times when people think of at-risk kids’ programs, they think of trouble,” Smith said. “Every single kid in our program has just had a tough time. People think ‘what am I getting into?’ “What they end up finding out is these kids are incredible human beings because challenges make better individuals,” he said. Vail, Colorado