Partners program to be introduced in foreign land
When something works, word gets out.
That’s what Joe Higgins, the longtime director of Mesa County Partners, discovered after he was asked to replicate the group’s mentoring model halfway around the world.
In mid-January, Higgins will travel to Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi, to introduce Partners to leaders of that country’s judicial system who are interested in revamping their juvenile justice programs.
“The community allows us to do what we do, and now we get to share it with another country,” Higgins said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Higgins said Georgia’s state department is paying for the airplane ticket for the two-week trip. Georgia first contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters for help, but that group wanted the country to kick in money to use its program, something Georgia doesn’t have. Partners doesn’t require a financial contribution to get started, Higgins said.
“If we can help kids do better, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
In talks so far with Georgia leaders, Higgins told those starting the program they will be the first to volunteer as mentors. Other mentors may be culled from a nearby university.
Georgia had been quick to incarcerate juveniles, but leaders are looking for ways to better take care of their citizens, Higgins said.
However, the notion of volunteering and altruism is a new concept. A program may be successful if worked through religious channels, relying on the country’s solid Christian Orthodox roots, he said.
Already, some Partners materials are being translated from English into Georgian and Russian, two languages spoken in Georgia.
Higgins, 61, said the opportunity to expand the program in a new direction is exciting, putting a nice wrap on his career as director for the past 29 years. Higgins is considering retiring in the next four to five years. As a Catholic, traveling to Georgia will be a fascinating trip to view the country’s abundance of churches.
“I’m not an international traveler,” Higgins said. “I get excited about going to Moab.”
Partners was started in Denver in the 1970s as an offshoot of a Christian-based youth group, Young Life. Partners models have been duplicated around the state and nation, although the nonprofit is identified by other names outside of Colorado.
Mesa County Partners has 122 mentorships or mentors who connect and spend time with at-risk youth. Eighty-nine youth are on a waiting list for mentors.
Specifically, male mentors always are needed.
“Talk about what I would really like for Christmas ... ,” Higgins said about volunteers.