There’s a new group of helpers for young people in Los Alamos County. Aaron Purtzer, director of “Reach and Rise” at the YMCA, briefed the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos recently on a new program for “therapeutic mentoring.”
In a talk to the Club April 1, Purtzer, a social worker, said he moved to Los Alamos from Richland, Wash., in January. His wife, LeAnn, is an archaeologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and they have one child, Iris, 5, who will be a student in Aspen Elementary School next fall.
Purtzer said Reach and Rise was started in 1992 by mental health counselors and is now a nationwide program. It has partnered with the YMCA, among other organizations. A handout that Purtzer provided, said that Reach and Rise was established to serve the needs of young people not being met by existing mental health services, to offer over-stressed families a resource to help meet their children’s needs, to provide young people with positive, growth-inducing relationships with adults through mentoring and to make differences in the lives of children.
Young people 6 to 17 will be referred to the program, basically by anyone—school counselors, teachers, principals, social welfare agencies, counseling agencies, the YMCA, friends, or family members. Young people may also self-refer.
All young people referred to the program will “go through an application process and an initial telephone and/or face-to-face screening” with Purtzer. Purtzer said that he will seek parental permission in every case. It is “very important that the family is on board,” he said.
The “mentors” in the program will be chosen from among local volunteers. They must be more than 23 years old; they must pass a background check and be fingerprinted; they must be willing to commit one to three hours per week to the program for a year; and they must want to have a positive impact on a child.
Each of them will go through 15 hours of training, and all of them will be encouraged to attend ongoing mentor support group meetings, which are led by the program director. Purtzer will match mentors with mentees after studying their interests. Men will be matched with boys in every case. Female mentors may be matched either with boys or with girls. Once-trained, each mentor will sit down with an assigned young person and “develop some goals,” such as learning to use words to express feelings, improving self-esteem, or preparing for future work.
Why establish such a program in Los Alamos?
“Kids face the same problems here as anywhere else,” Purtzer said.
He mentioned problems such as divorce, substance abuse, depression, suicidal tendencies, truancy, under-performance in school and family issues. He hopes that young people who participate in the program will develop a more positive outlook and achieve more success. The mentors will have the experience of “giving back” to society. Purtzer said hopes that the program can “serve 30 children between now and next year,” operating on a grant that runs through Sept. 20, 2015. If all goes well, the program could grow and become regional—something that happened in Phoenix.
Kiwanians asked how this new program might conflict or fit in with other programs that already exist in Los Alamos County. Linda Daly, executive director of the YMCA, noted that, “Big Brothers, Big Sisters serves hundreds of kids,” while this new program will involve in-depth training, one-on-one relationships and professional feedback. “There’s definitely a role for both,” she said, and this new program is “meant to dovetail” with existing local programs.
To obtain more information or to volunteer for the program, contact Purtzer at 505.662.3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.