When we think of at risk youth, we often envision inner cities or, as some may describe it, “the ghetto.” Perhaps that is the picture that Hollywood, the media or even politics have painted for us. But studies show that kids living in rural areas are equally at risk for drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy, dropping out of high school and even suicide. FRIENDS FIRST is helping to rewrite the script for many small communities, including teens living in the small town of Bennett, located east of Denver. Bennett has a population of 2,408 with one elementary school, middle school and high school. The town doesn’t even have a stoplight.
We’ve been serving Bennett for more than 15 years. Six years ago, this partnership was strengthened when FRIENDS FIRST Colorado Program Manager Mary Edet became the STARS Program Coordinator for the community. She’s the perfect person to serve in this role. You see, Mary has been a part of FRIENDS FIRST since she was in the ninth grade, when she served as a STARS Mentor. Today, Mary is an adult mom, wife, mentor and leader at FRIENDS FIRST. Her story exemplifies the FRIENDS FIRST core value of #MENTORLIFE, meaning you always have someone investing in you, and in turn, you pay it forward by investing in someone else. FRIENDS FIRST has been investing in Mary for most of her life and Mary does the same, especially in Bennett and in the life of a very special young lady named Trisha.
Our STARS Mentoring Program is a cross-age peer mentoring program that incorporates evidence-based practices of mentoring. FRIENDS FIRST adult staff mentors high school students and, together, those students mentor middle school students. Trisha became involved in STARS as a mentee while in the sixth grade. Today, she is a senior and has served in the STARS program throughout middle and high school. Trisha has mentored 12 students over five years, attended five STARS National Leadership and Mentoring Conferences, served as youth staff for three conferences, and has interned for FRIENDS FIRST. She will graduate this year and hopes to attend Hayes College in Kansas.
Hear from Trisha how the STARS Mentoring Program has impacted her life.
“About four years ago, our family experienced extreme financial difficulty. We moved six times within four years, and to top it off, my grandmother was very ill and in home hospice. At only 14 years old, I became the main caregiver to my grandma while going to school. (We lost her almost two years ago.)
“After so much moving around we ended up in a fifth-wheel camper, where we currently live. It’s cheap, but it falls short of being a home. My bedroom is a closet and is too small to fit a bed, so I sleep on a piece of mattress that lays on the floor with my beloved pig Wilbur! We do not have heat or air conditioning and our bathroom consists of a port-a-potty that sits outside the house. We do not have a dishwasher or stove, so most of my dinners are frozen microwave meals.
This lifestyle has caused a lot of stress, and I have completely lost my relationship with my family. To make matters worse, my brother was being bullied and I almost lost him to suicide. Luckily, he became involved in STARS and is doing better. Home is a very unhealthy place for me, and it’s been hard to “spread my wings” when there is no room or encouragement to do so. That’s why I am so thankful I have my STARS crew as a part of my life. Without this program, I don’t know what I would have turned to in order to cope with all the stressors in my life. Being a mentor has been the BEST thing that has happened to me. It’s a great feeling to know that when you pour into others, you have someone pouring back into you too.
My mentor, Mary, has been one of the main reasons that I continue on. When I fall, I know her hand will be there to reach out, pick me up and dust me off. And as a mentor I get to do the same for others. I believe the best in them and help them to see they too can overcome anything! Knowing that someone always believes in you and has your back, despite your shortcomings, is indescribable. This program is the most stable thing in my life. I like to say, ‘behind every person who believes in themselves is a mentor who first believed in them.’
I encourage you to donate to FRIENDS FIRST today! You are not only helping a terrific program, but you are truly saving lives like mine, not only in the city, but in some of the most remote places like Bennett, Colorado. Thank you for your support!”
We can’t thank Trisha enough for sharing her story. We are excited to see her spread her wings and see where they take her! As she stated, this is your opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation to FRIENDS FIRST and help many students like her to spread their wings!
Thank you to everyone who has supported FRIENDS FIRST this past year and the many years prior!! We look forward to your continued support in 2017. #MENTORLIFE
You can donate online, by going to www.friendsfirst.org;
By mailing a check to;
7100 E. Belleview Ave., Suite 303
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
Or, by giving us a call at (720) 981-9193.
You can also ask to see if your company has a matching gift program. If not, please let us know, and we’d be happy to help set that up! Making a donation of $100, $500, or $1,000 is a great way to close out the year and support the future of our community by investing in our teens. Gifts in any amount are needed and much appreciated. Thank you!