Buddy Program reaches 50-year anniversary in mentoring youth of Roaring Fork Valley

Audrey Ryan The Aspen Times
Kimber Kurr y su amiguita Daniella trabajan juntas para hacer un tazón en la noche de cerámica en Carbondale Clay Center en el 2020.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is a driving factor in The Buddy Program, a non-profit that empowers youth throughout the Roaring Fork Valley through mentoring services. For the past 50 years, the program has helped children from Aspen to Carbondale.

“It takes a lot to raise kids. It takes a lot to help your children be as successful as they can be, and the Buddy Program is just pulling together as many resources is possible to create equity with opportunity for youth,” said Kathryn Sansone, the development director. “So we create a village for families who maybe need support with their child.”

In 1973, a therapist at a community mental health center noticed a number of his clients were single mothers. The therapist was a Big Brother in college and decided to start providing his clients with mentors. The program was incorporated as a 501(c)3 in 1991, and has expanded into one of the largest youth-serving organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley from there.

The Buddy Program has grown with the community it serves and does everything it can to meet the needs of each individual child. In 1994, they expanded into Basalt and El Jebel. In 2010, they began programs in Carbondale and a few years later in 2015 they moved their mid valley office to Carbondale to establish a better presence in the community.

Diversity and inclusivity have played large roles in the development of the Buddy Program. Their core values of creating a welcoming environment for anyone are not just something listed on their website, Sansone said.

“They are implemented into everything we do. We really look at those statements and say, ‘How are we doing this in our communications and our relationships,’” she said. “It is important for us to have representation of the youth that we serve in our Big Buddy pool.”

Looking forward, they are expanding into Glenwood Springs to offer programs to youth downvalley. They are starting up a pilot program at Glenwood Springs Middle School and plan to run their outdoor leadership program starting in June. In fall 2023, the Buddy Program will be up and running all four of their programs in Glenwood Springs.

“Mentoring is one of the best prevention strategies to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system. Glenwood Springs has not had a robust mentoring program in many years, and it’s very much needed. Buddy Program is the perfect organization to fill that need,” said Lori Mueller, former executive director of Youth Zone.  

Throughout their programs, The Buddy Program officials look for growth in areas such as social acceptance, healthy risk attitudes, grades, scholastic competence, educational expectations, truancy, parental trust and special adult relationships. Sansone said that 100% of youth improve in at least one category and 95% improve in at least two.

LEAD, the teen group mentoring program, teaches teenagers about leadership through exploration, action and discovery.
Courtesy of The Buddy Program


Many of the relationships formed through the Buddy Program are maintained for life. For one pair in particular, their connection was so meaningful that the big buddy had his little buddy be the ring bearer in his wedding years after they finished with the program, Sansone said.

“We are so lucky to have so many volunteer big buddies, people who give up their time and support us in this community. We have incredible people who advocate for the organization and help us find big buddies,” Sansone said.

The programs

There are four mentoring programs within the Buddy Program: Community Mentoring, School-Based Mentoring, Peer-to-Peer Mentoring and LEAD, the group mentoring program for teens.

The Community Program, the longest-running mentoring program, pairs a child with a big buddy. They meet three to four times a month to spend time together.

“They do everything from meeting for a hot chocolate and talking about their week to participating in some of the free program activities,” Sansome said.

Free program activities include ski days at Buttermilk, movie nights, cooking classes and many more. Big buddies go through a thorough screening process. Program coordinators put a lot of effort into creating pairs with similar interests and personalities.

“We offer big buddies a lot of training opportunities where they can learn a little bit more how to be better mentor to better serve their little buddies,” said Sansome.

Although the Community Program is the best-known program, Sansome said, “I think so many people are unaware of the breadth and depth of the work that we actually do at the Buddy Program.”

The School-based Program pairs adult volunteers from the community with students, and they meet once a week in a school setting.

The Peer-to-Peer Program allows for high school students to provide mentoring to elementary and middle school students. They typically meet for an hour per week on school grounds. Students eat lunch together, play board games and do arts and crafts.

The teen group mentoring program, LEAD, is designed to teach teenagers about leadership through exploration, action and discovery. Some programs within LEAD are high school and middle school outdoor leadership classes, youth camps, dream day camp and activities throughout the school year such as auto-mechanic and cooking workshops.

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