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
“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
“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
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
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
Larimer County Volunteer Program