Mentoring program may get cut
Unless she’s fidgeting with the silver zipper on her vest or twisting her long brunet locks round and round her finger, it’s easy to forget Bernadette Hinojosa is only 15 years old.
In one moment, she’s giggling and covering her mouth like a kid. In the next, she’s speaking about intervening when her cousin threatened suicide, about resisting pressure to join a gang, about standing tall as she’s witnessed friends fall to street violence.
“Focus on your goals and making the best choices, and no one will be able to stop you.”
The keys, she says, lie in leadership training, connections with adults who care, self-discipline, strong bodies and teen teamwork.
Bernadette’s go-getter attitude is a result, she says, of Project InterCept, a teen mentoring program significantly affected by the budget cuts Gov. Bill Owens announced Friday. There are plenty like her, she says, who blossomed through Project InterCept as well.
When they came into the program, they wanted to be hairdressers. Now, Bernadette says, “I want to be a computer programmer, my friend Sabrina wants to study computers, Kim wants to be a fashion designer. We all visited Colorado Technical University and said, ‘Wow, this is cool.'”
Fewer girls might have the chance given the program’s dim financial future, coordinators say.
Project InterCept, which served 150 middle school and high school girls in Harrison School District 2 each year for the past five, will lose $23,000 – about 20 percent of its budget or the equivalent of two half-time mentors.
“Those who stand to be hurt most,” said Kathy Stevens, Women’s Resource Agency executive director, “are those who can tolerate it least. These girls are 60 percent minority; 70 percent are on free or reduced lunch. They don’t have this stability in any other place than Project InterCept.”
Bernadette, who will be a sophomore at Harrison High School this fall, says she’s heard the messages in other places, but it never made sense until she entered the program as an eighth-grader at Carmel Middle School.
Like other participants, she was recommended by her counselor because of her strong personality, potential for leadership and range of life experiences. “These girls have had lots of experiences before coming to us,” program facilitator Kimberly Bolding said. “Not all of them have been good.”
Bernadette acknowledges that.
But by 14, when her cousin threatened suicide, she’d had a whole year of Project InterCept and no longer felt helpless or victimized; she was empowered.
“We had learned a lot about it in InterCept, so when I found out my cousin was cutting herself and writing these death poems, I told somebody who helped her.”
That’s the beauty of Project InterCept, Bolding said: its positive ripple effect. “When we change Bernadette, it changes all those around her.”
If she could talk to Owens herself, Bernadette, would say this: “Don’t you know these funding cuts will affect the next generation, governor? We need InterCept.”
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