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April 23, 2014
Larimer County Department of Human Services Children, Youth, and Family Division (CYF), works with children who are at risk of abuse and neglect on a daily basis. In 2012, CYF received 5,700 reports of abuse/neglect...almost 428 were substantiated. For these children, the system becomes part of their daily lives. It can be difficult for survivors of abuse to navigate the path to independence without positive adult role models to guide them on their journey. Christina Ulrich-Jones, Volunteer Coordinator at the CYF division, supports youth involved in child protection and the juvenile justice system through her Oasis tutoring and mentoring programs.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Oasis programs at CYF are perfectly aligned with the cause. "Some youth in our programs will have children themselves, and they need a mentor to show them how to be a role model. Mentors can help break the cycle of abuse," Christina explains. Many children in the programs are in out-of-home placement, and busy foster parents seldom have time for one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. By becoming an Oasis volunteer, community members can provide children with the individualized attention that they have been lacking. "Volunteers should be committed and flexible," Ulrich-Jones advises. "Change takes time. Though volunteers may not see positive change right away, it is important for them to recognize that they are planting the seeds for a better future."
Keisha Davis, long time Oasis mentor, puts into her own words what it is like to volunteer with the program:
What does a typical day of volunteering in an Oasis program look like for you?
Volunteering through Oasis is great, I get to hang out with someone who really needs a role model and it gives me a chance to do more in the community. Sometimes my mentee and I go to events that could be anything from a Symphony, to a show at the Rialto. Most times we'll play tennis, go on a hike, go to lunch, window shop, play volleyball, go roller skating or bowling, and sometimes we see a movie. We are planning on volunteering at the Cat Rescue together starting in the summer. I try to create opportunities and experiences that she wouldn't normally have had. Just talking over a meal and shopping can be one of the most rewarding experiences.
What are some things that you have gotten out of the experience?
I was skeptical of the program at first, I had that thought going through my head: "What am I really going to do for the community by hanging out with a kid once a week?" Over the years I've volunteered with Oasis and spent time with my mentee, I've realized how important it is to be that one person in someone's life that is there every week. I've learned things about myself, reflected a lot on my own youth, and learned how to just be and model rather than give advice or try to "fix" someone. I've realized how powerful just being there for someone can be. I've also gotten a friendship that I never would have had otherwise and regardless of how long we continue to hang out together, I'll always have that and I think she will too.
What have been a few challenges?
There were difficulties at first with my mentee. She was very quiet and didn't want to talk to me and didn't seem interested in being around me at all. It took a few weeks before she started talking more and showing more interest in building our relationship. We have a great relationship now and have great conversations and both enjoy being together. Of course, it's not smooth sailing every time we're together, she's now a teenager and going through a lot at school and socially and it's difficult to hear about and see behaviors that I know are harmful. It's difficult to find the balance between providing opportunities, being a role model, and being that older person that knows better. It can also be challenging to find new things to do together to avoid burnout.
Why is it important to invest time working with the youth in Larimer County?
The youth in our county are the future of our county. What we can do as individuals by being mentors for youth can help provide a path into a future that is productive and benefits the community. If a child only knows life as being life in poverty, within the justice system or in drugs, that is the life they will repeat as an adult. I think it's important to reiterate that it is important to invest time because no amount of money can match the impact that a mentor will have on the life of child.
For over 50 years, United Way of Larimer County has been committed to bringing people and organizations together in order to improve lives. We can all play a part in preventing child abuse and neglect; the power of just being there for children in difficult situations can be enough to drive lasting change in Larimer County for good. When our youth succeed, we all succeed. Be part of the change by becoming a reader, tutor, or mentor!
Copyright 2015 United Way of Larimer County