A new crop of volunteers is needed to help reflect the Buddy Program’s increasingly diverse group of youngsters | PostIndependent.com
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A new crop of volunteers is needed to help reflect the Buddy Program’s increasingly diverse group of youngsters

By Andy Stonehouse

Living in one of the most expensive communities in the United States is hard enough for adults, but for kids whose families experience economic, housing or other challenges, the Roaring Fork Valley can be an especially difficult experience.

Big Buddy Ainhoa Bujan and Little Buddy Ximena celebrate at Ximena's high school graduation ceremony, after the two have been Buddies for 10+ years.
Big Buddy Ainhoa Bujan and Little Buddy Ximena celebrate at Ximena’s high school graduation ceremony, after the two have been Buddies for 10+ years.

That’s why the Roaring Fork Valley-based Buddy Program has provided a valuable service to local youth, pairing them with local adult volunteers to take part in activities and events they might normally not be able to access, as well as helping them establish a friendship with a trusted adult.

Horseback riding, gondola rides, theater shows or even enjoying a cheeseburger together can be a very big deal. More importantly, the time spent with a caring and committed adult mentor and friend, either during a lunch break on a school day or out in the community, helps build social skills and strengths that can last a lifetime – not to mention extended friendships between Big and Little Buddies.



Big Buddy Ryan Latham and Little Buddy Bryce show off their creations after a pottery class.
Big Buddy Ryan Latham and Little Buddy Bryce show off their creations after a pottery class.

Laura Seay, Senior Recruitment Manager and Development Coordinator, says the Buddy Program, founded in 1973, was established to meet the need of our local mountain communities to provide mentors who would serve as a friend and guide to youth here. 

At present, the organization has about 100 pairs of adult and child Buddies from Aspen to Carbondale, though the Buddy Program is also able to provide some services to children who have moved further down the valley with their families.  There is currently a “match list” of more than two dozen youth who are waiting for a Big Buddy.



Big Buddy Zach Benevento-Zahner and Little Buddy David hit the slopes for the Buddy Program's annual Ski/Snowboard Day.
Big Buddy Zach Benevento-Zahner and Little Buddy David hit the slopes for the Buddy Program’s annual Ski/Snowboard Day.

“We’re looking for people who are reliable, committed, consistent, open-minded, and are really excited to have a connection with a younger person.” Seay says.

And while last year was the biggest on record for new volunteers, the Buddy Program’s greatest current need, explains Ainhoa Bujan, the Mentoring Program Director, is to recruit a wider array of bilingual adult Big Buddies to better represent the changing demographics in Aspen and the entire Roaring Fork Valley.

“We’re trying to bring more equity in our volunteers and mentors, so we are recruiting to bring in people from more diverse backgrounds,” Bujan says. While the Buddy Program offers extensive services to Hispanic and Latinx youth and their families, that hasn’t been as well-represented in the adult Big Buddies themselves.

“We’ve been making connections with other nonprofits in the Latinx community, as we’ve realized our current system is based on a way of recruiting volunteers that doesn’t necessarily work with other cultural communities,” Bujan adds. “In recent years, a lot more young professionals in the Latinx community have come back to work and live in the valley, and we see huge opportunities through them.”

Seay explains that the Buddy Program offers two main opportunities for adult volunteers: Community-based relationships that take place outside of school hours, and school-based programs, which take place at local schools during lunch hours, once a week.

“We are always looking at the safety and wellbeing of our kids, so consistency and commitment are critical,” Bujan says. “That means not giving up, and having cultural humility, to work with a diverse group of kids. And our kids are amazing. We want them to learn and grow up healthy, and to have a healthy role model outside of their own families.”

Both Bujan and Seay have experienced the benefits themselves as they are also longtime volunteers with the program, having developed life-long relationships with their Little Buddies as they’ve grown into young adults. “I appreciate that we were able to try so many new activities together,” Seay says. “We attended a pottery class together, which I had never done, and had the best time doing. We were also able to go horseback riding, which is something I loved during my childhood, and we were able to share that activity. I watched her grow up and mature over an 8-year period. I feel every youth deserves a dedicated mentor and the Buddy Program wants our valley youth to have that experience.”


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