Apr 052004
 
Authors: Amy Resseguie

For the past 18 months, Troy Sweigart has spent three hours each

week with a 10-year-old boy named Adam.

Sweigart, a junior in construction management, takes Adam to the

movies, hiking in the mountains and to an occasional wrestling

match.

“We do whatever he wants to do,” Sweigart said.

Sweigart is volunteering as a mentor with the Larimer County

Volunteer Program, which is run by the Department of Human

Services. He sees his relationship with Adam as that of an older

brother.

“I ask him about how school’s going, and we talk about life,”

Sweigart said. “I think it’s less intimidating to talk to me than

others. I try to give him advice.”

The LCVP offers many volunteer opportunities, but it holds

one-on-one youth mentoring as its foundation, said Pam Swerer,

coordinator of volunteer services.

“Everything we do is role-modeling and providing a healthy

lifestyle (for the youth),” she said.

The majority of the children in the volunteer programs are there

because they and their families have been referred to the

Department of Human Services.

“Basically our issues are abuse and neglect, and we have a fair

amount of mental issues and drug and alcohol issues,” Swerer said.

“We try to get in there and help (kids) feel a sense of belonging

in the community.”

Sweigart said it is important for the youth to have someone to

talk to them on the same level about right and wrong.

“I think it helps a lot to have somebody a little closer to

their age to talk to … because a lot of these kids come from

broken homes or a troubled youth,” he said.

Swerer said most of the youths in the mentoring program are

adolescents and preadolescents but that her office gets requests

for mentors for children as young as 5.

In addition to one-on-one mentoring, LCVP offers group

activities and clubs for youths, including weekly art lessons,

cycling and radio clubs, and seminars like financial skills for

teens, which are all run by volunteers.

The department currently has about 280 volunteers, 40 of whom

are one-on-one mentors, Swerer said. She estimates that 150 kids

per year are served by her volunteers.

Swerer said it is important to have mentors in the community to

help take care of children who may be suffering at home.

“We can’t do it all, as far as Human Services and abuse and

neglect,” she said. “We want the kids to stay involved in the

community. If you make them a part of the community, make them feel

that they belong, and that someone cares about them, that’s what we

want.”

Sweigart said he has talked with Adam about college and has

taken him around campus. “If this kid grows up to go through

college, I can’t even imagine how good that would feel,” he

said.

LCVP works closely with CSU students and with Service Learning

and Volunteer Programs. Swerer said approximately three-fourths of

the mentors are students.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering with LCVP goes through

an interview, and then child abuse, criminal and driving background

checks. Mentors must be at least 18 years old, and other volunteers

can be any age. Mentors are asked to commit to meeting with their

mentee three hours a week for a minimum of one year.

Mentors receive training before they begin meeting with their

youth and also meet with Swerer and other mentors once a month for

supervision and support.

“We go over what’s going on, just to take care of them so that

they don’t go down with vicarious drama,” Swerer said. “It’s very

infectious – when a child is suffering, the mentor feels it very

strongly. We really try to keep our volunteers healthy.”

Swerer said it is important for mentors to realize they are not

a parent or therapist.

“You can’t fix these kids,” she said.

Swerer said she looks for volunteers who respect kids. She also

stressed that mentors do not have to be perfect people.

“Some of my best mentors have been in trouble with the law …

and they want to help a kid before he gets too far,” she said. “We

have a fair amount of juvenile offenders, and that’s a great place

for mentors to be.”

Swerer also said she would like more male volunteers.

“My greatest request is for young men to mentor a boy … it’s

so important for them to model problem solving and relationships,

and also just how a guy views the world,” she said. “(Men) give so

much and they don’t even know it,”

Allison Amiel, a psychology junior, has been mentoring a

9-year-old girl since January. Amiel takes her ice-skating and

bowling, they do arts and crafts and occasionally they go

window-shopping at the mall.

“We mostly talk about school … and a little bit about her

family life,” Amiel said. “She hasn’t opened up about anything in

her past yet, as to why (her family) is involved with Human

Services.”

Info:

Larimer County Volunteer Program

970-498-6581

www.larimer.org/humanservices/volunteer

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