Sometimes it’s as simple as buying a pack of gum at the grocery store. Or sitting and blowing bubbles together.
Whatever the activity, Brooke Weaver finds ways to make connections and build trust with the youth she mentors through the Youth Dynamics family support assistants (FSA) program.
“They become kind of a part of my world,” said Weaver, an elementary school teacher in Evergreen. “I’ve seen a lot of kids where I didn’t think they would graduate high school and stuck by them thick and thin.”
Weaver just passed her 10th anniversary as a mentor with Youth Dynamics — longer than she ever thought she would be involved with the organization. She started the part-time job while finishing up her education degree as a way to gain experience working with youth.
Now a decade later, after a master’s degree in special education and a newborn in the family, Weaver is still at it.
“I love what Youth Dynamics is about,” Weaver said. “I love the difference I can make and I love what they’re doing across the communities.”
Youth Dynamics was founded in 1981 and has 19 offices in cities across Montana. The Kalispell office opened in 2010 and currently works with 112 Flathead area youth.
The nonprofit organization offers mental health services to kids and families, including a therapeutic foster care program, in-home support services, case management and the FSA youth mentorship program.
Emily Wiest, the FSA manager for Youth Dynamics, says the mentorship program is impactful.
“For a lot of our kids, consistency is something they lack in their lives, and maintaining a form of that with mentors is huge,” Wiest said. “FSA mentors get to help the youth practice life skills out in the community and it helps the kids build confidence.”
“We just need more involvement in growing the program,” Wiest added, noting that she would like to hire at least 10 additional mentors in the near future. There are more than 20 kids on a waitlist to be paired up with mentors.
While Weaver has worked with more than a dozen different kids over the decade, she’s worked with a few for years on end — sometimes spending upwards of 30 hours a week with them.
“Some of the long-term ones, you just have a huge impact on their lives,” Weaver said. “I love being a constant in their lives.”
One of the full-time mentors in the program has been working at Youth Dynamics nearly as long as Weaver.
“I’ve always rooted for the underdog a little bit, I guess,” said Darrin, a full-time mentor who started with the program in 2012. “The kids that just need that extra push, and then when you start seeing progress, it pushes you to keep going with them.”
Darrin said he wanted to work with youth since he was younger, and thought about getting into juvenile probation, but ultimately settled into this position.
He started out as a part-time mentor before making it his career. He currently works with five clients — a preschooler he’s with a few hours every day, and another four he’ll meet with a few times a week.
“After school we’ll go get an ice cream and visit about the week,” Darrin said. “They all have goals that they’re working on, so we’ll check in on those and see what we can work on. I’m a big stickler on social skills, so we work on those a lot.”
Darrin, who preferred not to give his last name, and Weaver both work with one family of brothers in a long-term mentorship relationship that’s been several years in the making. Both are quick to point out the progress of the boys, from basic social skills with peers to handling outings in the community like an adult.
“Just seeing that kind of progress, that definitely keeps me going,” Darrin said. “A lot of the reward in this work is in the relationships you build, not just with the youth, but with their parents.”
“Giving back to the community by helping the local youth is a big thing — I feel fortunate to be able to do what I do,” he added. “We can put a smile on somebody’s kid’s face. It’s pretty priceless, man.”
For more information about Youth Dynamics visit www.youthdynamics.org or call (406) 751-8017.
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