10 years together: Mentoring pair mark decadeslong relationship through Partners in Routt County program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Though it was 10 years ago, Pamela Kinder still remembers her first meeting with Jazzel Gardea in detail.
The two met at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs. Gardea wore a black and white dress and “flitted around the library” as Kinder and Gardea’s parents filled out the required paperwork for Gardea to participate as a mentee in the Partners in Routt County mentoring program.
Ten years later, the two still remain a close part of each other’s lives as Partners’ longest active pair.
“She wasn’t like my parents, but she was a very vivid memory in my life,” said Gardea, now 17 and a senior at Steamboat Springs High School.
Gardea’s parents, who are Mexican immigrants, enrolled her in the program at age 7, because they wanted to help her adjust to American culture and learn English, mainly so she would not feel behind and fit in with her peers.
“I started at a very young age, because my parents and I dealt with racism a lot,” Gardea said. “I didn’t understand why I was being left out of conversations or having to deal with racist or ignorant comments.”
While the Gardea family hoped Kinder could help their daughter learn English, the two built a relationship that ran much deeper.
Kinder remembers meeting Jazzel’s teachers, picking her up from school, taking her to dance classes and reading to each other with books from the library.
“I just remember when she was little, she always loved to read and write, and she still loves to read and write,” Kinder said.
For Gardea, interacting with Kinder exposed her to opportunities she’d never had before. She went skiing and snowmobiling for the first time, walked a dog despite never having a pet of her own and discovered that going to college was an option for her.
“When she was little and I would talk about my kids who were in college, Jazzel said she didn’t know what college meant,” Kinder said. “She was fascinated that they were at this place called college.”
Neither of Gardea’s parents went to college, but Kinder knew Gardea wanted to go to law school, which Gardea said she first realized as she watched national news descriptions of families being separated at the United States-Mexico border.
“That just like called to me and I was so sad,” Gardea said. “No child should ever go through that painful experience of being separated from their parents.”
Though Gardea was born in the U.S., she said many of her friends’ parents are immigrants, inspiring her to become an immigration attorney to help immigrants have a “smooth and easy process.”
“I’m really into solving injustices,” she explained.
Gardea also said she has had an interest in politics since she was young, and the election of President Donald Trump continued to ignite her passion for fighting injustice.
“I always felt kind of left aside, so when I started growing up and I entered middle school and high school, I remember crying when Trump got elected, because I was really in fear,” she said. “The things that he was saying were ignorant, and it showed a side of America that scared me.”
Trump’s attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, a program aimed at protecting young immigrants from deportation, struck Gardea hard, she said, as she has friends and family members who rely on the program.
“It just showed that he didn’t care about me and my community,” she said.
While Kinder said she could not directly relate to Gardea’s feelings, she learned much about empathizing with children of immigrants.
“I certainly didn’t realize until I was working with Jazzel that when you’re growing up in a different culture, you’re not getting exposed to the same things at home that your white peers might be exposed to,” Kinder said.
Similarly, Gardea said Kinder helped her feel like she fit in with her primarily white peers.
‘’I think it’s changed my life for the better, because without her, I would be kind of lost in many aspects of life,” Gardea said.
While Gardea and Kinder have maintained their relationship for 10 years, most partnerships last about two to five years, said Erin Miller, Partners in Routt County program director.
“I think they just built a really incredible bond and relationship,” Miller said of Kinder and Gardea. “They both put in the time and effort to continue their relationship.”
Partners has about 150 participants each year from three different programs.
“When a youth has a mentor, their commitment to school increases, their perceived risk of alcohol and drug use decreases, their self-esteem increases,” Miller said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the name of Mark Preuss.