It's not about the money

Volunteers give teens time, energy, fun

— Cold air and hot springs make for a great water slide.

"It's so steamy, you can't see anything when you're inside it," Mirko Erspamer said this week at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center, moments after rocketing down the tubular slide into a hot pool. "You don't know where the end of the slide is until you're in the water."

Mirko, a seventh-grader at Steamboat Springs Middle School, enjoyed the hot springs Thursday during an after-school teen club sponsored by Steam--boat Springs' Teen Programs and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, a local organization that coordinates mentoring programs in middle schools throughout Routt County.

The mentoring programs include more than trips to water slides.

Six RYMC staff members in their 20s spend four days a week in local schools as tutors, mentors, friends and role models for students struggling to succeed during the tough middle school years.

Through RMYC, the adults are able to participate in an AmeriCorps program that pays them a weekly stipend for living expenses and, after the completion of 1,700 hours of service, grants them $4,725 that can be used for future tuition or to pay off student loans.

Kyleigh DeMicco mentors at Steamboat Springs Middle School along with Tim Gillespie. She also works at The Gondola Pub and Grill on weekends and babysits to make ends meet, but she said she wouldn't change her full-time job.

"It's so enjoyable working with kids in this community that the monetary income doesn't matter," DeMicco said.

Andy Davenport, assistant principal at Soroco Middle School in Oak Creek, said the time and energy put in by the mentors is invaluable.

"In a school like ours, where we're dealing with a very tight budget, having the AmeriCorps members at our school is absolutely critical," said Davenport, who also teaches social studies and is the on-site supervisor for AmeriCorps mentors Tara Haug and Nick Marzano.

Davenport said that in addition to running a boy's club, girl's club and chess club after school, Haug and Marzano fill a variety of roles during the day by tutoring, assisting in classrooms and meeting with the parents of about 12 children whom Haug and Marzano work with on a one-on-one basis.

"They're really treated as faculty members at our school," Davenport said. "They've built relationships with the kids in fun activities, so they have a connection that they can put into an academic setting, and the kids are much more willing to work with them."

At Hayden Middle School, building administrator Gina Zabel said RMYC volunteers Lucas Sherman and Marissa Lueders have started a Green Team to teach students about recycling, initiated a Pen Pals program between students and nursing home residents at The Haven and Doak Walker Care Center, run a recreation-based after-school club on Wednesdays and even recently started coaching students in Destination Imagination, a problem-solving competition.

"Teachers deeply appreciate Lucas and Marissa. They have an excellent rapport with both the kids and the teaching staff here," Zabel said. "They're really very vital to our daily activities. We rely on them more than we think we will when we start the year."

AmeriCorps program director Hillary Ackerman said the school-based mentoring program, a collaboration with Partners in Routt County and Steamboat's Teen Programs, began five years ago. The program next year will move under the jurisdiction of Partners.

RMYC development director Sheila Wright said her organization, which began in 1993 and operates the annual Yampa Valley Science School every September, has begun to look for private sector funding.

"That's something that's going to have to happen for us to continue," she said.

For local students, the benefits of the mentoring program are easy to see.

"Let's go on the slide again!" Mirko said Thursday, eagerly tugging on Gillespie's arm.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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