Bolder Options connects youth with mentors and fitness

front_Bolder-OptionsBolder Options, at 2100 Stevens Avenue South in Minneapolis, has been offering mentoring programs and services to youthful first-time offenders and truant students for more than 20 years. Kari Davis, Bolder Options’ chief operations officer, explained that “We’re an activity-based mentoring program, where we use running, biking and swimming.”

She also said that program participants regularly work with mentors and are required “to do two-to-three activities in order to graduate from the formal mentoring program, and then they transition into our Alumni Leadership Network.”

Davis, originally from Newark and Freehold New Jersey, moved to Minnesota, she

Kari Davis (l) and Darrell Thompson
Kari Davis (l) and Darrell Thompson

told the MSR, about 22 years ago. Before coming to Bolder Options, she worked in diversity inclusion and as a program officer for the United Way. She served on Bolder Option’s board about 15 years ago and became its COO in the last few years.

Davis works very closely with the organization’s president, Darrell Thompson. Thompson, born in St. Louis, Missouri, moved to Rochester when he was about a year old and was a star football player for the University of Minnesota before going on to play with the Green Bay Packers. He has been with Bolder Options for 21 years and says he was their first employee.

According to Thompson, the program has, at any given time, “anywhere from 350 to probably 400” young people enrolled “between our mentoring program and our Alumni Leadership Network.” Davis added, “We also acquired a youth triathlon, so now we are incorporating swimming, which also allows us to work with kids between the ages of seven and 17. In our mentoring program, our core group of students are between the ages of 10 and 14.”

Both Davis and Thompson speak of the organization’s track record under their leadership with unconcealed affection and pride. Thompson explained one source of that pride: “We find as a national average that in most mentoring programs, their mentors spend about one to two hours a month; our mentors are expected to spend two to four hours a week with our students. So you know that has an impact.”

Continuing, he added, “The national average for a mentor-mentee relationship is that 45 percent of the matches last for a year. Bolder Options is at 72 percent. We’re very proud of that. We’ve been as high as 80 percent. Ninety percent of the kids in our program are from a lower economic background or below the poverty line. Probably 75 percent of the kids in our program are of color.”

Also, for Davis, “One of the things I love about Bolder Options is the niche that we have where we engage kids in healthy activities, teaching them about health and wellness, and the commitment of the mentors that are working with their kids.

“I’ve always told people and anyone that would listen to me that I believe that Bolder Options is one of the best mentoring programs in the country.”

Thompson spoke for both when he said, “I think of the satisfaction of making a difference in the life of a young person, seeing them come from a person of low confidence, low self-esteem, and seeing them grow into the person they’re capable of being, and believing in themselves and hopefully going on to high school and…moving on to college and a career.

“I’ve seen that numerous times and have met many kids who went through our program here that [now] have their own kids and give a lot of credit to Bolder Options and their mentor for the program making that change in their life.”

When asked what the future holds for each, as well as for Bolder Options, Thomson replied, “We’ll continue to grow. We’re excited — we’ve been going through a lot of transition the last few years, and we were lucky to bring Kari on as our COO, and that kind of stabilized our in-house operations. So we would like to continue to grow our mentoring program, and grow our Alumni Leadership Network, where I think is the place for the most growth for us.”

Davis responded, “I feel like I’m just getting started. I love what I do, I love this organization, and I love working with someone that I have a lot of respect for. It makes this an amazing place to be. I’d like to see us get more recognition from foundations and other places that could help financially support us as we continue our growth. By doing so, we’ll be able to reach more kids in what we do.”

For more information about Bolder Options, go to http://bolderoptions.org/

Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to ipeterson@spokesman-recorder.com.