United Way’s mentoring program for college students needs volunteers

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United Way of Pueblo County is looking to add 30 new volunteers to its college mentorship program by September 1 and is halfway to its goal.

The program pairs an adult mentor with a student from one of six Pueblo County colleges. According to the program’s vision statement, mentors meet with students once a week during their lunch hour to help them “become confident, responsible and positive members” of the community.

Middle schools participating in the mentorship program include Heaton Middle School, Liberty Point International School, Pueblo Academy of Arts, Risley International Academy of Innovation, Roncalli STEM Academy, and Vineland Middle School.

United Way Mentoring and Youth Engagement Manager Tanya Simental said that with six different schools, the needs of the community are high.

“The need far exceeds the number of volunteers we get,” Simental said. “I wish we could have more.”

“Getting a mentor is like having a best friend for life. He’s going to be with you and you can tell him things that you can’t necessarily tell others,”

Cynthia Stevens, seventh grader at the Risley International Academy of Innovation

Mentors must be at least 21 years old, have no criminal history, and commit to weekly in-person meetings with students for at least one school year. Mentors must also be comfortable with technology and be good listeners and must demonstrate a willingness to learn.

Christie Velasco is entering her sixth year as a mentor in the program. With a background in human resources and a son of her own, she got involved at the suggestion of a friend. She began mentoring at Roncalli and is currently mentoring seventh grader Cynthia Stevens at Risley.

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“It’s a rewarding program,” Velasco said. “We might not even know the impact we’re having for years. It’s something that helps kids and I think… I get as much out of it, if not more, than students. I wasn’t I expected it. It was a joy to have it.

The lunchtime conversations between Velasco and Stevens range from talks about an upcoming big test to basketball tryouts. Velasco occasionally brings activities like coloring books, cards and board games to do together. Sometimes they go out so Stevens can practice basketball dribbling.

“Getting a mentor is like having a best friend for life,” Stevens said. “They’re going to be with you and you can tell them things that you can’t necessarily tell others.”

Other components of the college mentorship program include field trips, where mentors and mentees from participating schools across the county travel to places like the U.S. Air Force Academy Planetarium in Colorado Springs.

Each college participating in the mentoring program has a school liaison officer who selects the students they believe would benefit the most from the program. Approximately 8-10 students per school are matched with a mentor. Ideally, a mentee begins the program in sixth grade and continues to be mentored for three school years. School Counselor Milton Gilbert is the program liaison at the Risley International Academy of Innovation.

“It’s great because you can see a student come in who maybe lacks confidence and we connect them with a mentor and they turn around,” he said. “Grades are up. Attendance is up. It’s a great program that needs more funding.”

Community members interested in becoming a mentor can visit https://www.pueblounitedway.org/mentor.

Pueblo Chieftain reporter James Bartolo can be reached by email at [email protected].

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