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Big Brothers Big Sisters of SW Colorado celebrates 40 years of helping local children

Executive director says the organization has evolved over time
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado started in 1984 with the goal of creating positive relationships between youths and adult mentors. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado turned 40 years old last week.

The organization has spent nearly half a century mentoring youths across the region, and the group celebrated that milestone last week at River Bend Ranch.

Executive Director Jenn Bartlett has been with the program since 2009, starting off as one of the organization’s adult mentors.

“I think right now, where we're at – just over the last few years – we're in a really good, sustainable place. We're looking forward to being able to serve youth really for another 40 years,” Bartlett said.

The organization had to adapt its methods throughout its history in order to keep pace with technology.

“We've had to really pivot and respond to the different environmental factors that are going on around the community and around the world,” she said.

She also said human connection has changed because of technology, and the organization had to find a way to embrace this advancement.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has long been known for its one-on-one, community-based program, which offers adult mentors for children.

However, Bartlett said the organization’s program where high school students mentor elementary school students has really helped Southwest Colorado children embrace human connection in a world filled with screens.

“The different program models that we're really looking to continue to deliver and to develop as new programs too. But ultimately, all of these programs have one common thread which is that human connection from a positive person in their (the kids’) life,” Bartlett said.

For many organizations, it’s considered a success to make it to 40 years old. Bartlett said it’s been a team effort.

“Our mentors are key. They're the key components to being able to keep the organization sustainable. They do that hard work directly with the kids,” Bartlett said.

Sherry Exum-Peterson has been a mentor just over a year now.

“My intentions were to help somebody, thinking it was kids that needed kind of a parent figure. But the little girl I have doesn't need a parent figure. She's awesome. She's just amazing,” Exum-Peterson said.

The two even help learn each other’s languages. The child Exum-Peterson is mentoring speaks Spanish as their first language. Exum-Peterson says that helps her stay in touch with the younger generations.

“I wanted to selfishly kind of prepare myself for my own family as well as helping somebody else,” Exum-Peterson said. “She helps me and we just have a ball together.”

Looking ahead, Bartlett wants to prioritize the sustainability of the organization.

Bartlett said staff and board members are working on growth strategies on a day-to-day basis.

“With that, I think we're going to be able to take that stabilization and be able to grow outward and ensure that, every community in Southwest Colorado has given the opportunity to their kids to be able to connect with a positive role model in their life,” Bartlett said.

The organization is working to recruit more mentors, and Bartlett says anyone can make a great mentor.

Exum-Peterson said that anyone thinking about helping children should apply.

“A mentor is someone that could just show up and just simply be with the kids,” Bartlett said.

Exum-Peterson said the experience has been rewarding because it’s shown her that help is often reciprocated.

“This group of people in Big Brothers Big Sisters, they know what they're doing. I have so much respect for the process that they take,” Exum-Peterson said.


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