Steps to self-sufficiency |

Steps to self-sufficiency

Fundraiser aims to help young adults walk into 'real world'

Gary Nelson loads the dishwasher after cooking a French toast breakfast for his fellow classmates in the Stepping Stones transition program Tuesday.
Brian Ray

— Devin Gillette’s peers and teachers were gathered around the breakfast table when the 18-year-old walked in with good news and a smile.

Gillette got a new job Tuesday working as a busboy at Lucile’s, so everyone was excited.

Gillette is a student enrolled at Stepping Stones, a transition program for Routt County students, ages 18 to 21, who need additional help preparing for adult life. The program works with students to build social, emotional, occupational and independent living skills.

Gillette is a graduate of Hayden High School, but Stepping Stones allows him to work closely with teachers, therapists and peers in a setting less structured than a high school. It also enables him to dive into the workforce in Steamboat Springs, which he previously did at Big O Tires, but knee problems made that job difficult.

“We meet kids where they need to be met,” said Stepping Stones teacher Betsy Packer. “It is a very unique program.”

Stepping Stones is holding its annual fundraising event, Bite of the ‘Boat, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Last year, Stepping Stones raised $4,000, which was used to support the program’s activities.

Each student at Stepping Stones has different needs, but the students are asked to meet every Tuesday for breakfast with their peers and the staff. Steamboat Springs High School graduate Gary Nelson, 19, made French toast Tuesday, and, according to him, he makes the best French toast at Stepping Stones.

The goal of Stepping Stones is for each student to transition safely into the ‘real world’ by developing their strengths and becoming self-determined, confident and productive members of the community they live in.

One step in that process is learning to prepare, cook and clean up after meals, which is why Tuesday’s breakfasts are required. Students in Stepping Stones also work on budgeting and other money skills, volunteering in the community and taking college classes.

Nelson and 18-year-old Scott Bjorgum, who recently moved to Steamboat with his family, are enrolled in a painting class at Colorado Mountain College. They have artwork on display at the Depot Art Center as part of a student arts display.

Gillette is taking an automotive technology class with Hayden High School graduate Jeremy Retter, 20, at CMC. Charlie Holthausen of Black Diamond Auto Shop teaches the class.

Retter doesn’t mince words about being enrolled in Stepping Stones. He is ready to be on his own, which brings a smile to Packer’s face. Enabling a student to enter the real world on his or her own is the primary goal of Stepping Stones.

“Last year, I got my own place and moved out of my mom’s house,” Retter said. “I was ready to move out and challenge myself. I’ve succeeded so far.”

Packer said this probably will be Retter’s last year in Stepping Stones because he is applying to colleges to study diesel mechanics.

Stepping Stones occupies four rooms in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center at Seventh and Aspen streets. The students have a small classroom, a vocational training room, a small apartment and a sensory room.

This year, the program is hoping to raise more than $4,000 at Bite of the ‘Boat so it can purchase a new dishwasher. Other items Stepping Stones needs are a color printer and an exercise bicycle, which might be helpful because all the Stepping Stones students are either Special Olympians such as Bjorgum or extremely active young adults.

Area restaurants and businesses have contributed gift certificates for this year’s silent auction. Area restaurants providing food for Bite of the ‘Boat are: Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, Coffeehouse and Wine Bar; Old Town Pub; Colorado Bagel Co.; Backcountry Provisions; Winona’s; Egg & I; Starbucks; Yacht Club; Johnny B. Good’s Diner; Sunpie’s Bistro; Tugboat Grill & Pub; Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory; The Home Ranch; Tequila’s; Village Inn; Double Z; Cugino’s; and Steamboat Meat & Seafood Co.

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