Better Living Through Coffee played host to an unusually eclectic assortment of talents on Thursday, Feb. 6, as the Jefferson County YMCA’s Building Futures program not only showcased the …
Better Living Through Coffee played host to an unusually eclectic assortment of talents on Thursday, Feb. 6, as the Jefferson County YMCA’s Building Futures program not only showcased the skills of young people and their mentors, but also offered testimonials on the importance of those mentorships.
Vicki Horton opened the talent show by reading from a book of poems meant to be read by two people, side by side. While her partner, third-grader Sovereign Morgensen, was a bit too shy to read aloud alongside her, he nonetheless held the book for her, and Horton expressed confidence he would be ready if there was another talent show next year.
The cozy coffee house proved to have plenty of floor space for not just one, but two dance routines, with Koko Rosas and Delilah Golly of the Olympic Thunder Cheer Squad followed by Destiny Rosas and Beth Valentine, the latter of whom performed choreographed moves to Marshmello and Anne-Marie’s “Friends.”
Building Futures Program Coordinator Dana Nixon praised all the participants, and said the final dance duo managed to prepare their routine “nearly at the last minute,” since they only had only met three times since being matched less than two months ago.
“We’re seeing a lot of hidden talents and friendships here,” said Nixon, who noted that the Building Futures school-based mentorship program simply would not exist without all of its volunteers demonstrating such a personal motivation to serve youth in their community in ways designed to make a positive difference not just for the students, but for the community overall.
“Their caring hearts have led them to action, and to this powerful tool of connection,” she added. “They have chosen to make this commitment to play a special role in the life of a young person.”
As two examples of the personal connections between young people and “positive adult role models” that Nixon spoke of, she called two long-term mentors, Joan Cole and Francesco Tortorici, to sum up their time in the program.
Tortorici enjoys skiing and making biochar, a byproduct of the Port Townsend Paper Corporation that Tortorici’s company, Olympic Biochar, uses to absorb the nutrients from other types of mulch, then release them over time.
“It’s like charcoal, but it’s been used in the Amazon for 5,000 to 8,000 years to create healthy soil,” Tortorici said.
As for Cole, she enjoys painting, making collages and dancing, and before Nixon approached her about becoming a Building Futures mentor, it wasn’t something she’d ever considered.
“But when I thought about it, it sounded like a new adventure,” Cole said.
Tortorici has a grandchild in Denmark, so he has grandpa energy to spare, “so why not?”
“In my five years in the program, I’ve gone through a few buddies,” Tortorici said. “I started meeting with one of my buddies when he was in sixth grade, and even though the program ends after ninth grade, he said to me when our match closed, ‘We’re still meeting up, right?’ So now, we’re meeting up on our own, even though he’s in 10th grade.”
Tortorici expressed pride in not only passing on his interest in biochar to his long-running buddy, but also observing his young buddy explain biochar to adults at the All-County Picnic.
“To me, it’s a genuine friendship,” Tortorici said. “We can talk about anything.”
Although Building Futures usually doesn’t start students as “buddies” to older mentors until first grade, Cole had one buddy whom she first started meeting with when he was in kindergarten, and while his initial shyness made her worry they might not be bonding, his response to her return from a vacation caught her flat-footed.
“Our communication wasn’t that great, and I wondered if I was making any difference at all to him,” Cole said. “When I saw him after I’d been away, though, he started running down the hall and yelled, ‘Joan!’ I thought, ‘He knows who I am.’ He’s in fourth grade now, and we play lots of games together.”
Nixon cited Cole’s story as an acknowledgement that relationships between mentors and their buddies can be challenging.
“But it was still important to her little guy,” Nixon said. “Their experiences together helped develop his personality.”
Cole encouraged adults to “see how it feels” to be a mentor, and not be discouraged.
“Even if you aren’t a good fit with one of your buddies, it’s nobody’s fault,” Cole said.
“If you’re considering it at all, go for it,” Tortorici said. “If you don’t do it, you’ll have forever closed the door on the potential to form a wonderful friendship. I wish I’d had someone to mentor me when I was these kids’ age.”
Nixon noted that, while Building Futures is a school-based mentoring program, its focus is not on academic support, but on the emotional care and social validation that comes from knowing that “someone is thinking about them and ready to do things they’re interested in.”
There’s currently a waiting list for young people who need mentors. To find out more about becoming a mentor, email Nixon at email@example.com.
“It takes courage to make a new friend,” Nixon told her audience at Better Living Through Coffee, as she lauded not only the courage of those who have taken part in the Building Futures program, but also the bravery of those who performed a talent that evening. “I am honored that you have trusted me enough to facilitate this friendship for you.”
Jessie Wedmore, branch manager of the Jefferson County YMCA, added that their volunteer appreciation event will run from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, at the Mountain View Commons, with wine and heavy appetizers. Please RSVP to Wedmore at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.