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Grand Junction’s mentoring program a win-win for everyone

Sharon Sullivan
Special to the Free Press
Aferny Reyes and Fred Jones have a partnership through Mesa County Partners one-on-one mentoring program.
Sharon Sullivan |

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There are currently 91 boys and girls in Mesa County on a waiting list for a mentor, and currently 87 partnerships.

For more information about Mesa County Partners’ one-on-one mentoring program, visit http://www.partnersmentoringassociation.org or call 970-245-5555.

Grand Junction High School junior Aferny Reyes doesn’t dare skip class because his senior partner Fred Jones will be on his case if he does.

“I kind of like it. He keeps me on track,” Reyes said.

Not that he wants to miss school. Although he’s been known to oversleep for his 7:30 a.m. class on occasion, when he works at his restaurant job the night before.



Jones is a mentor for Reyes with Mesa County Partners, a nonprofit organization offering several youth programs, including its one-to-one mentoring, where a positive adult is matched with a kid who could use another grown-up in his or her life.

Jones keeps track of Reyes’ progress at school by logging on to Mesa County Valley School District 51’s Parent Bridge — an online access where parents can check a student’s grades, attendance, and other school information.



“His mom doesn’t speak English and there are no computers at the home, so she doesn’t have access to Parent Bridge,” Jones said.

However, his mother, Martha Torres, learns immediately through Jones if he’s missed a class, Reyes said.

Reyes’ father lives in Mexico — he talks to him infrequently, on his birthday and on Christmas, he said.

His mother works 10-hour days, at two different jobs to make ends meet. Reyes helps his mother pay the rent with earnings from his job at 626 on Rood.

Jones has made a point to attend most every parent-teacher conference with Reyes for the past three years — “one by myself when Aferny had to work,” Jones said.

When someone volunteers to be a Partners mentor, he or she is asked to attend an orientation, go through a background check and interview, provide references and commit to the program for one year.

Many, like Jones and Reyes, remain partners for several years, said Mary D’Amico, one-on-one case manager for Mesa County Partners.

Even after junior partners age out at 18, many stay connected, she noted.

“They gain a friendship for life,” D’Amico said.

Mesa County Partners is part of a national association that began in Denver in 1968. Initially the program focused on juvenile offenders, although these days youth associated with the juvenile justice system make up only 10 percent of the junior partners in Mesa County, D’Amico said.

Kids are referred to Partners by school counselors or principals because of truancy or behavioral issues. Others, like Reyes, come from low-income, single-parent families.

Jones first met Reyes at the Riverside Educational Center, an after-school tutoring and enrichment program for K-12 students who qualify academically and financially.

Reyes was the first kid to walk through the door when Jones began volunteering there in 2007, Jones said. They became “partners” in 2011.

“A lot of Riverside Educational Center kids live in homes where only Spanish is spoken,” Jones said. “The kids speak English, but a lot of them have a hard time reading.

“None of the kids’ families have ever been to college, and a lot never went to high school.”

Jones talked to Partners executive director Joe Higgins about incorporating REC kids into the Partners program. Partners provides the training for mentors, conducts the background checks and administers the program.

“Even when both mom and dad are in the home, they often work two or three jobs to get by, so they’re latch-key kids,” Jones said, of REC students.

Sitting across from each other at Main Street Bagels on a recent afternoon, it’s apparent that Jones and Reyes have an easy and close relationship.

Jones attends all of Reyes’ basketball games — he’s a shooting guard for GJHS’s junior varsity team. They go snowboarding in the winter and rafting in the summer.

“We love going outdoors, staying active all the time,” Reyes said.

Reyes’ other passion, besides basketball, is cooking.

Starting as a dishwasher three years ago, he’s clearly proud to now be cooking at 626 on Rood. He plans to attend culinary school after he graduates from high school. He’s a member of a GJHS culinary team that will compete at a culinary arts contest in April, at Johnson and Wales University in Denver.

His employer, 626 on Rood owner Theo Ottley, is helping to sponsor the team, Reyes said.

Although Reyes recently turned 18, he and Jones have no plans to disband their relationship.

“He’s more my mentor than I am his,” Jones said. “He’s got his act together more than I had when his age.

“He is really a great person. I feel lucky to be a part of his life.”


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