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BEAR launching one-on-one mentoring program

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Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources (BEAR) is launching a new one-on-one mentoring program for middle and high school-aged youth.

BEAR has hired additional staff to be mentors and they will be paired with interested youth after an orientation with families for the free program.

Executive Director Diane Olsen said the staff is eager to begin the program.

“We’ve done one-on-one mentoring before and have always wanted to bring it back,” she said. “We are able to do that now and are looking for referrals. We’ll start paring youth with the mentors we have on staff and get it going.”

Aimed at youth age 10–17 the program is an opportunity to build a positive relationship.

Olsen said referrals come from school counselors, mental health counselors, Western Montana Clinic, parents and leaders of any program.

“Anybody who has a child in mind who could just use a little more positive support in their lives from an adult,” she said. “We welcome anyone who might be interested.”

The program is designed to engage youth for at least a year but there is no pressure to commit.

“We’re very flexible,” Olsen said. “They can see how it goes, then decide. Best practice shows that a match for a year or more has the most effect on a kid’s life to we try to aim for that.”

The program is custom-designed for one to two hours each week — depending on the schedule families are looking for — engaging in activities the kids select. BEAR programming is focused on getting outdoors and could be anything from walking by the river to hanging out outside in their yard and just talking, to skateboarding or hiking, to learning fly fishing or any new skill.

“We do have that outdoor element,” Olsen said. “There is a lot of variety and the sky is the limit depending on what the kid is interested in. It can also be helping with homework, the mentor will work with the kid to see what they want to do. They may have a goal they want to meet and the mentor will help them with that goal and kids can just have fun with a positive person to support them.”

Admission to the program is rolling, first-come first-served, and often fills up fast. BEAR keeps a waiting list.

“We do a lot of group mentoring, summer camps, and after-school and weekend activities,” Olsen said. “This is a cool part of the program because it gives focused attention and more support. Some kids do better one-on-one than they do in groups.”

The youth in the mentoring program also have access to other BEAR activities. There are day trips, a two-week camp, weekend activities, a fair parade and a barbecue at the end of summer.

“This is just a need that we’ve seen in the community,” Olsen said. “We hope to continue to grow as much as the desire is in the community.”

The BEAR ropes challenge course will also be available to these youth.

“We had to figure things out around COVID,” she said. “We did and we’ll be fully operational again this summer. We’re all getting recertified in June and we’ll have three days a week where anyone in the community can book the facility.”

High school-aged kids can apply to be in the BEAR peer mentor program and will be trained to help with group activities for middle school-aged students.

For more information visit BEAR online at www.bearmt.org.

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