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Big lessons, little packages


Touchtone Youth Project brings together underserved local youth with willing area mentors to help both reach new heights together.

Liz Blood September 11th, 2013

Housed in the grain silos just south of Bricktown is Rocktown Climbing Gym, a one-stop-shop for sport climbing.

It’s also the home for Touchstone Youth Project, a local youth mentoring program that pairs underserved kids ages 8 to 18 with a mentor for the school year.

Steven Charles, Touchstone’s executive director, said people often don’t realize it’s a mentoring program — although he admits he’s not crazy about the word mentor because he thinks it sounds a bit clinical.

“I really like ‘big’ and ‘little,’ like Big Brothers, Big Sisters — but that’s taken,” he said.

Mentors are trained before the school year on subjects such as how to mentor and how kids learn best — through experiential learning.

“We’re all teaching, and we’re all learning,” Charles said. “The mentor process is very conversational.”

Launched in 2011, Touchstone also has periodic booster sessions throughout the semesters to gauge how mentors are doing, swap strategies and offer continuing education pieces, such as first aid training.

During program time, however, the young people are brought to Rocktown once a week to eat dinner with their mentors and other kids, and then climb.

“Kids learn better when their hands and feet are involved, when they’re engaged in activity,” Charles said. “We talk about qualities like perseverance, teamwork or self-esteem while they’re climbing. They process the deeper meaning as they do it.”

Larry Lucas, a climber for 20 years, has mentored for the past two. “I find a lot of reward in climbing,” he said.

“If I can help a little brother see those same positive things about health and personal well-being and being passionate about something, that makes me feel good.”

Charles believes climbing facilitates conversation between the mentor and mentee.

“When you add climbing to the mentor-child relationship, the mentor becomes a safety net of sorts,” he said. “The mentor becomes someone the kid can talk to and rely on when things are great and not-so-great.”

Touchstone serves 80 children annually from area schools, shelters and other mentor programs.

For now, Touchstone wants more mentors to service the needs of the children now in its program. Another program goal is to move toward greater parental engagement, Charles said.

“We strongly encourage our mentors to make contact with parents,” Charles said. “When they hang out together, both the parents and the mentors might find out more about what is going on with the child. Everyone is in the loop.”

For more information on theTouchstone Youth Project, call 487-7785 or visit facebook.com/TouchstoneYouth or touchstoneyouth.org.

 
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