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Buddy Program blossoms, new ‘gardeners’ welcome

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By Lynn Burton
Sopris Sun Staff Writer


Arbaney Park in Basalt was probably the happiest, happenist place in town on the evening of June 22, with dozens of Buddy Program mentors and mentees chowing down on potluck picnics and pizza, slugging down soft drinks, swarming around on cool green grass, playing games and engaging in various ball-related activities, chasing each other and generally having a good time under clear skies and pleasant temperatures.

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A magician who goes by the name Ryan Eason mystified kids and adults with rope tricks and other demonstrations of his trade. All this took place at the Buddy Program’s annual picnic. Early in the evening, The Sopris Sun sat down with mentors Dana Presutti and Megan Vrono and their mentees, sisters Judith (14) and Jocelyn (11), both of Carbondale, to talk a bit about the program and what they like about it.

A high point for Dana and mentee Judith came last year when Judith rode a horse for the first time at a Windwalkers event for the Buddy Program. “It was really fun,” Judith told The Sopris Sun, “ … but a little scary.”

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Mentor Megan and mentee Jocelyn also enjoy horsing around. “I love to see Jocelyn have new experiences and conquer fears,” Megan said in an email to The Sun. “We did this together during our first outing together at Cozy Point. They offered free horseback rides to children, and we went. It was amazing to see Jocelyn start off so timid around the horses, and then finish the day feeling confident in her skills.”

Coming up later this summer, outing possibilities include the play “Hairspray” in Aspen, an Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico performance and “(hiking) Mushroom Rock,” Jocelyn chimed in.

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Separately or together with their mentors, Judith and Jocelyn have gone to movies, attended cooking classes, visited an architect’s office and more.

Dana said her mother lived in the Alzheimer’s unit at Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale before she passed away, and Judith regularly visited with her. “This made it much easier on me,” Dana said. They continue to visit Heritage Park residents every now and then on holidays and to say hello to the “amazing” staff there. “Judith is one of the most caring and loving people I know.”

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Continuing, Dana said, “We look forward to our weekly visits and always seem to know how the other is feeling. We are so grateful to have found each other.”

Dana moved to Aspen from New York City in 2007 and is store manager at Lugano Diamonds in Aspen. “My two teenage daughters went away to boarding school and I wanted a Little Buddy to fill the void … I felt I could add value to her life,” she told The Sopris Sun.

Megan is a teacher at Crystal River Elementary School, and moved to Carbondale from Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Jeremy in 2011. August is her two-year anniversary with the Buddy Program. “I think it is important for children to have strong adult relationships outside of their parents and guardians. If you want to see positive change within a community, it needs to start with children.”

The Buddy Program

With headquarters in Aspen, and an office at the Third Street Center in Carbondale, the Buddy Program’s mission is to “ … empower youth through mentoring experiences in order to achieve their full potential,” according to its website at buddyprogram.org.

The Buddy Program is open to residents in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale, according to recruitment manager Laura Seay. “Yes, we have a wait list of Little Buddies in all three towns,” Seay told The Sopris Sun. For details, email LauraS@buddyprogram.org.

“They do an amazing job of matching people (mentors and mentees),” Dana said.

A mentor, according to the Buddy Program, is a “wise and trusted confidant” or an “influential supporter.” Mentoring is a one-to-one or group relationship that helps a child reach his/her full potential. “Mentoring is a powerful way for young people to develop competence and character and plays an important role in a child’s life.”

Next steps

The 31st annual Boogies Buddy Race sets out from Rio Grande Park in Aspen on July 4. The 18th annual Bash for the Buddies takes place at Merry-Go Ranch on July 6. For both events, visit buddyprogram.org.

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