BELLEVUE — Jorge Cuevas-Jimenez was terrified as he stood at the bottom of the rock-climbing wall. It was his first time at a climbing gym, and the 11-year-old was too scared to move off the ground.
George Lampe stepped in. The two talked about what Jorge was feeling — he’s afraid of heights — and mapped out which holds he could grab and step onto as he worked his way up the wall.
Slowly, with every movement, Jorge gained confidence. With Lampe’s coaxing and encouragement, Jorge made it to the top.
Jorge’s accomplishment could serve as a teaching moment about how it takes time to reach your goals. For the sixth grader, it was just a fun new hobby with his mentor.
“I was nervous at the beginning, but now I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “It’s fun to hang out with George.”
Jorge and Lampe were connected through the Youth Eastside Services Success Mentoring Program, which pairs adults with students in the Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts. The students are often from low-income or single-parent households, and at a greater risk of having problems in and outside of school. More than 1,000 Eastside students have taken part in the program since it began more than 20 years ago.
Jorge and Lampe, who both live in Bellevue, were matched about two years ago, when Jorge’s mother enrolled him in the program. As a single mom, she wanted a male figure in her son’s life.
Along with its mentorship program, Youth Eastside Services (YES) provides counseling, substance-abuse prevention and treatment services and other support for parents and children throughout the region. YES is one of 12 nonprofits helped by reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
The program currently has 16 mentor-mentee pairs, according to coordinator Julie Dubravetz. The kids range in age from 9 to 17 and live in Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue. They meet with their mentors for two to four hours a week and receive academic support, like homework help, and opportunities for activities like going to museums and parks.
The program has a one-year minimum, but many pairs have been together for much longer. Some met while the child was in elementary school, and continued their relationship until the teen graduated.
YES’ primary focus is on youth and family behavioral health services, but Jorge is not a YES counseling client. The mentorship program doesn’t require the children to be enrolled in any other services to be matched with a mentor.
Jorge’s mother, Tanya Jimenez, signed him up for the program because she wanted him to gain confidence and have another adult in his life that he could count on. She knew the program worked; her 24-year-old sister had a mentor more than a decade ago and the pair are still in touch.
“He gets help with homework, they go bowling, ice skating, things that I don’t think I would have been able to do,” Jimenez said.
Lampe, 33, grew up in Bellevue, down the street from a YES office. He had friends who took advantage of the services YES offers, and when he was caught with drugs as a teenager, he had to complete one of the nonprofit’s substance-abuse programs.
“It was something I had to do and was pushed on me, but in retrospect, I understand the value and the work they do,” said Lampe, who is a certified public accountant at T-Mobile.
He reconnected with YES while researching volunteer opportunities on the Eastside. He came into the program thinking there would be concrete results, like Jorge picking up healthful habits and valuing school more. But the benefits are more intangible, he found.
“You’re meeting with him once a week, so you’re not going to be teaching him everything about life,” Lampe said. “My impact has been being an adult he can trust; someone he feels he can come to if he needs help. He has a little more stability in his life.”
Lampe and Jorge’s outings include playing video games or going to the KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue and the Seattle Aquarium. That way, Jorge is motivated to talk about school and open up while they are doing something fun, Lampe said.
Jimenez says she’s seen her son’s overall confidence grow. She praised Lampe’s patience as Jorge became more comfortable telling him when he was or wasn’t feeling his best. Lampe, too, has learned from his experience.
“One of the biggest things is to understand that the impact you make isn’t always going to be visible or recognized, but it’s definitely there,” he said.
Dubravetz, the program coordinator, is currently recruiting mentors and children. Mentors receive training and support from YES counselors and are required to spend at least 200 hours with the mentee over the course of one year. The organization emphasizes that kids who have a mentor have better school attendance and improved grades and are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Ask Jorge about the benefits, and he’ll simply respond with stories of how Lampe helped him climb up the wall, to the very top.
“I got to have fun,” he said. “It’s nice to have a friend around.”