If you’re an artist, you know first-hand the therapeutic powers of art. Art promotes creativity and builds fine motor skills, it helps you relax, engage in your work and connect with other artists. Just like art made a positive difference in your life, imagine what it can do for a young person facing stressful situations that may be out of their control. Be a mentor to youth in the community by sharing your craft and becoming an Art Partner.
Partners is a Colorado-based one-to-one mentoring program that pairs at-risk youth ages 6-17 with positive adult role models, called “senior partners.” These adult volunteers are matched with their “junior partners” based on personalities and like-interests and act as friends and advocates for disadvantaged youth who may be facing issues associated with being a victim of abuse, or living in a single-parent home or low-income household.
The Partners program originated in Denver in 1968 as a result of community members’ desires to provide guidance and support for troubled youth so they could become productive members of society. Today, there are eight affiliates that serve over 15 Colorado counties. The local affiliate has served Delta, Montrose and Ouray counties for 31 years.
Keeping art alive
The Art Partners program was an initiative that was accepted by many of the affiliates to promote the use of the arts to help channel energy into positive behavior. When the organization’s funding was cut in the late ’90s, many affiliates decided to drop the art component from their mentoring program entirely.
But because each affiliate chooses programs based on the needs of their community, Partners of Delta, Montrose and Ouray decided to keep it going.
“Students were given the opportunity in an open forum to express their needs,” said former Partners of Delta, Montrose and Ouray CEO Gayle Davidson. “Repeatedly [we] heard that there was no creative outlet in the community for students.”
Davidson, along with other interested community members, philanthropic groups and artists, sought funding to preserve the program. A grant from the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program allowed them to do just that.
Art Partners matches children age 12-17 with artists and craftsmen in their community, engaging both partners in all styles of art, including acrylic, oil painting, sketching, watercolor, pastels and digital imaging and photography. Others work with nontraditional media, including gardening, equine grooming and care, jewelry making, fiber arts and car restoration.
Case Manager Lissette Riviere said that kids have a genuine interest in learning about art, improving technique and developing their talents.
“They’re still getting that one-to-one mentorship but it’s focused on something they want to learn and grow in and expand their talents,” she said.
Aggie Alexander, 71, is a professional acrylic artist from Mexico and senior partner to 17-year-old Diego. Alexander is relatively new to the Partners program, having only been a senior art partner for a little over three months.
She said it’s been wonderful to see Diego come out of his shell and be able to communicate and express himself verbally as well as through color and figures. Diego has expressed plans to make art his profession.
“The mentors get just as much out of it as the kids do because it makes the mentors do their art and it makes them engage and try new things,” Riviere said.
Parental involvement and support are essential to the success of the program. Junior partner Rose, 16, and her mother, Glenda, are enthusiastic about participating in the Art Partners program.
“The reason I decided to put my daughters in the program was so they could get out more, and work on their social skills, along with getting a partner that shares the same hobbies and passions,” Glenda said. “They can pursue their hobbies and learn from someone they feel they can trust.”
Rose really enjoys photography. While she has learned a lot about the craft already, she knows there’s still a lot she can learn from her senior partner.
“Being matched up with someone who also enjoys photography will help me learn how to take better photos and learn other techniques,” she said. “I hope that after the Art Partners program, I can pursue a career out of everything I learn, and possibly be able to help others.”
The partnerships agree to produce at least one piece to give back to Partners for its annual sale and expo during the summer.
“No money can buy the pride and sense of achievement and self-esteem of a child who successfully completes an art project, displays it in a show and then wins a ribbon or makes a sale,” Riviere said. “It’s priceless.”
How to volunteer
There are about 65 art partnerships throughout the three-county area. All levels of artistic ability and experience are welcome.
There is an ongoing need for mentors in the Partners program, with a long waiting list of kids wanting to participate. Adult mentors must pass a background check and commit to spending an average of three hours a week with their junior partners for one year. When the year is up, senior partners have the option to continue bonding with their current partner, or get involved in a new partnership.
There are no fees associated with being a partner. Partners provides training and support along with monthly outings and activities. Many local organizations support Partners by offering partnerships discounts on dining and activities.
Success of the Partners program is evidence-based.
“I love what I do,” Riviere said. “I love seeing the positive growth in the participants.”
Bob Page, 65, has been an enthusiastic senior partner for more than 20 years. He keeps in touch with some of his past junior partners, one of whom is currently serving our country overseas in Iraq with the U.S. Army.
“He was a great kid,” Page said. “I helped change his life, and in turn, he changed my life and the lives of my family.”
In addition to working with his 9-year-old junior partner, Page helps plan and organize Partners’ annual golf tournament.
“I love being able to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” Page said. “When I see a kid prosper and do well in school and in life, it just makes me feel good.”
For more information about becoming a senior partner, call 249-1116 or visit www.partners-west.org. You can also stop by the Partners office:
315 S. Seventh St. in Montrose, and 511 E. 10th St. in Delta.