MAKING AN IMPACT: Youth mentor program creates lasting bonds

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 10:49 AM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – A Minnesota nonprofit is giving local middle school kids a little extra encouragement and support through a mentor.

Bolder Options has been providing wellness-based mentoring for youth in the state for three decades. It expanded from the Twin Cities to the southeast Minnesota region 13 years ago.

“We match kids and mentors based on likes and interests.”

Sarah Schaller, Program Director, Bolder Options

Michael Berres and KD Reiland have a special bond, one that may not exist if it weren’t for Bolder Options.

“We try to hangout as much as possible, like just spend time together,” KD Reiland said.

Reiland is an eighth grader at Kingsland Schools in Spring Valley. Berres is a 32-year-old resident at Mayo Clinic. Both have a strong love for sports, making their pairing a perfect match.

“At the beginning, it was pretty fun and then we got more into the year and I’ve just had so much fun with one-on-one time playing basketball and playing football,” Reiland said.

According to the organization’s Program Director Sarah Schaller, on average, Bolder Options will help mentor around 50 middle schoolers in a year.

“That can come through a teacher, a principal, it can be a social worker or a therapist,” Schaller said.

Then, it’ll match them with volunteer mentors who meet with them every week for an entire year.

“From the beginning, you start with this mentee/mentor relationship, and then pretty quickly you realize you’re just friends and hangout and able to do different sports, activities,” Berres said.

“As you grow into your mentor, you’ll find some real joy and happiness doing it.”

KD Reiland, Mentee, Bolder Options

Throughout their year together, they focused on holistic personal development through weekly activities, hosted by staff.

Berres added, “They get tickets to sporting events here and in the cities and so you’re really supported the whole way and they check in all the time. You don’t feel like you match and then you’re alone, it’s something that you get support the whole way through.”

“It helps get kids out, maybe away from the screens, get them experiencing new things, new events that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to,” Schaller said.

When the year is over, the relationship doesn’t have to end.

“We have an alumni program, so once you’re a part of Bolder Options, you get to be with us for as long as you want,” Schaller said.

While the organization provides fun, healthy-living opportunities for mentors and mentees, it’s the emotional development and lifelong learning skills that really set students up for success.

“There’s a lot of things I’ve learned from Michael, like when to shut my mouth sometimes, when I really have to get my work done or when something’s really important to you, don’t pass over it,” Reiland said.

Schaller added, “Sometimes we have kids come in that have not had many friends and by the time they leave, they have made so many friends, their self-esteem is through the roof, and they’re just overall happier and active.”

From Vikings games to backyard basketball and life chats over FaceTime, Berres and Reiland continue creating memories that will last forever.

“You’ve changed my life because you’ve given me somebody I can hangout with on a regular basis, something to look forward to, someone that I can play sports with and grow not only athletically but also socially and emotionally, too.”

Michael Berres, Mentor, Bolder Options

Bolder Options is always in need for volunteer mentors to be part of its program.

To learn more about professionally referring a mentee, click here.