One to One Mentoring celebrated its birthday at Thursday night’s Top Chef & Taste of Telluride. The local nonprofit — the beneficiary of the fundraising event — turns 25 this year. And as One to One Mentoring celebrates a quarter century of empowering young people through professionally supported mentor relationships, those involved over the years look back.
John Mansfield founded the organization with Allan Gerstle in 1994. In the early 1990s, Mansfield was the head of the juvenile diversion program for San Miguel and Ouray counties, and Gerstle was the director of social services (for the same catchment area) when the duo reached a conclusion.
“In many instances we were dealing with the same families and children,” Mansfield recalled. “We both understood the benefits of mentoring and saw the need for a mentoring program in our area. There was nothing different about the kids in San Miguel County that wasn’t true about kids everywhere. Mentoring is a wonderful addition to any community. It is not just for families in difficulty. It offers an adult friend to enter the picture, a person who has the time to listen unconditionally, to participate in those things that are of interest to the young person and to introduce them to new interests. An adult who has some extra time to be a friend.”
So, the pair sought entry into a mentoring program.
“We started by joining the Partners program, which is a Colorado mentoring organization,” Mansfield explained. “Although Partners worked well for Ouray County, it became apparent that Partners was not able to reach into San Miguel County effectively, so we broke off from them and formed our own mentoring organization.”
That newly formed organization was One to One Mentoring. Mansfield said that local enthusiasm for the project was key to its early success.
“No one whom I approached to be on the first board refused,” he said. “They were all busy people active in the community, but they did not hesitate.”
Other highlights, Mansfield added, included “the amazing generosity of the Telluride community in helping financially. Bill Carstens was the person who was absolutely essential in our initial success. ... A little later, Jim Johnson came on board to help in a big way. Both of those men have continued their support through their foundations and through the Telluride Foundation. … Also, having Rita Robinson serve as executive director. We could not have found a better person to help start the program. She was always calm, steady, amazing.”
An additional boost came from local schools, which helped identify young people who could benefit from the program, and Telski.
“Owners Jim Wells and Ron Allred and families were right with us when we proposed a sled derby for the kids to be held on the ski hill,” Mansfield said. “Jim and Ron flipped burgers at the barbecue on the hill during that first derby.”
For Mansfield, though, most memorable from those early days were “the kids themselves and their families. We were successful because the kids and their families spread the word that it was fun to be a part of One to One. Without that, nothing would have worked. And the mentors who signed on right away. We were amazed by the number of people who volunteered to be mentors.”
Mansfield himself mentored three young men during his time with One to One.
They are “all doing well now,” he said of his mentees. “That feels good. Maybe that’s the best thing of all.”
Deep, meaningful satisfaction with mentoring is a feeling Susie Meade, a long-time mentor with One to One Mentoring, knows well. Nearly 20 years ago, Meade signed up to be a mentor and was eventually matched with a first grader, Genevieve Matamoros, for what would become one of One to One Mentoring’s longest-running matches.
“It must’ve been in 2000,” Meade said. “She turned 7 in October that year and will turn 26 this Oct. 28. 19 years!”
Initially, the pair was in the Study Buddy program, which primarily involved Meade helping Matamoros with schoolwork, before they moved into a more comprehensive program.
“As we moved from the Study Buddy program to other activities, we would spend time at my home, read Harry Potter books together, drink chai, sleepovers, participating in the Cardboard Sled Derby,” Meade said. “We had several celebrations over the years as our relationship grew, Easter egg hunts, homemade meals and Christmas celebrations. ... We hiked Ajax, skied together. She learned to swim, as well as bike ride. We took birthday trips, first to Montrose and the Halloween corn maze, later Denver and the zoo, once to Oklahoma and the lake for sailing and water skiing.”
When Matamoros’ father passed away, they travelled to Florida, where he had lived, which Meade described as “a very difficult trip that deepened our relationship.”
Matamoros went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing — with guidance and some financial support from her mentor — and now works at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“I have been blessed to love, witness, participate and influence a child’s life for 19 years,” Meade said. “There have been laughter and tears from the both of us, as we have both learned and grown. She has taught me to be a better person. It has become a lifelong relationship. Now, I am part of a bigger family, who are grateful and loving towards me — her immediate family and her boyfriend’s family. I feel very grateful to have had this experience and to have it continue. We have a grown-up relationship now. It’s wonderful, more than I ever imagined.”
She added that her friend and former mentee has become, “a confident independent young lady, thoughtful and happy, hardworking with a direction to service in this world. She’s simply beautiful and amazing.”
One to One Mentoring Executive Director Tara Kelley said that matches like Meade and Matamoros’ are “why I love my job and why we have been around for 25 years.”
Kelley explained that One to One Mentoring will “continue to do what it does well,” while also expanding its programming in Norwood and the West End communities of Nucla and Naturita. The organization, she said, has recently established peer mentoring programs in both the Norwood and West End school districts and currently has more adult mentors in Norwood than ever before, “although still more are needed, particularly male mentors.”
“Everybody needs a mentor,” Kelley remarked. “Everybody thinks of Telluride as a wealthy community and why would we need a mentoring program? We have the same problems any other community has — and our entire service area of San Miguel County and the West End of Montrose County — we’re just prettier.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in the Thursday edition of The Watch, the Telluride Daily Planet’s sister publication.