'Most rewarding thing out there'

Students find satisfaction in Partners program

Alicia Belford, like many high school juniors, doesn't have a lot of spare time.

With classes to attend, schoolwork to complete, family to spend time with and extracurricular activities to boot, hours fly by pretty quickly.

But there's one person Belford, a Steamboat Springs High School student, will always make time for.

Her name is Angela, and despite their age difference, she's one of Belford's best friends.

"Sometimes it can be difficult to fit everything in, but she's definitely a priority of my extracurricular activities," Belford said.

Belford and Angela were paired through Partners in Routt County, a program that depends on responsible and caring adults to volunteer to "partner" with area children who may need an additional role model in their lives or someone to spend some quality time with.

A few years ago, Partners began a program for Routt County high school students such as Belford, Hayden's Jake Doolin and Soroco's Lindsay Ellis, each of whom wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

Belford and Angela, an elementary school student, have spent a lot of time together since they were partnered several months ago. They've gone to Johnny B. Good's for milkshakes, to Snow Bowl to roll a few games, to picnics in the park and even a hockey game. Now they're planning a sleepover with each other's friends.

"Just fun stuff like that," Belford said. "We try to meet as much as we can. She'll call and say, 'When can we hang out? I can't wait to see you.'"

Currently 15 Routt County high school students are part of the program -- 10 from Steamboat, three from Soroco High School and two from Hayden High School.

"It sort of restores your faith in humanity," Foster said. "If these kids are showing this type of leadership now, imagine what kind of adults they'll be."

Foster and Partners' program support coordinator Julia VanBenthuysen check in with the high schoolers frequently, often by phone and during a once-a-month get together at their schools.

"The kids are all really exemplary high school students," Foster said. Responsibility, commitment, good judgment and academic skills are traits common among the high school students who are part of the program -- and are also the traits necessary for others who might be interested in joining the program.

But most of all teenagers need to be positive mentors, role models and friends to their junior partners.

"Sometimes the only dependable thing they have is you," Belford said.

Students don't get class credit for participating. Instead, they get something better.

"To me, there's nothing more rewarding than knowing you've made a difference in one person's life," Steamboat high school junior Kelsey Patterson said. "That's the most rewarding thing out there."

Students who want to participate in the program must commit to one year of meeting with their partner for about three hours each week.

Partners uses a detailed process in an effort to match partners with similar interests and personalities. The program is completely voluntary, and the parents of the junior partners must agree to allow their children to participate.

Partners provides students $20 a month to help offset some of the costs of activities they may do with their younger friends. Many local businesses also contribute services or provide discounts for Partners activities.

Although the program only requires a one-year commitment, Belford, Patterson and fellow high school junior Maddie Proper don't plan on quitting the program once they become seniors next year.

For Belford, severing ties with Angela is completely out of question.

"She's entering middle school," Belford said. "She'll need me. I remember those times."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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