It’s not an understatement to say that Save Our Youth offered a lifeline to Ines Calvete Barrios.
When she arrived in Colorado from Colombia at age 12 with her mother and younger sister, they had a rocky start. They escaped domestic violence from her mom’s new partner and spent a couple years in a series of shelters in metro Denver.
At 16, Calvete Barrios stayed behind when her family moved out of state, aware that Colorado offered fewer barriers to college for undocumented students than most places. The experience was bewildering, she said — but she had Lan Ly, her mentor through Save Our Youth.
“I think it was life-changing,” she said. “I basically stayed by myself when I was 16, and I was living with friends. She would check up on me and she would help me get groceries. And if I needed anything, she was there for me. So I definitely felt her compassion — and in a way, she was like family to me.”
Calvete Barrios is one of the hundreds of Denver-area youth paired with mentors over the last 28 years by the Christian nonprofit, which receives funding from The Denver Post Community Foundation’s Season to Share program.
She and Ly, a technology and data consultant, had been connected the year before, when Calvete Barrios was living in a transitional housing facility for families. She said they bonded over food, especially desserts. Both came from immigrant families (Ly’s is from Vietnam). Over time, she said, Ly provided much-needed emotional support.
Calvete Barrios, now 23, made it through Lakewood High School, and last spring, she graduated from Metro State University with a bachelor’s degree in integrative health care, with aspirations of becoming a physician. She received the President’s Award for student achievement.
Save Our Youth provided other assists along the way, she said — giving her a scholarship, helping pay for her books, even replacing a broken computer. Her sister, who later returned to Colorado with their mother, has a mentor through Save Our Youth and now is in college, she said.
The organization each year pairs adult mentors with dozens of youth between ages 10 and 17, who also often participate for several years in its educational and skills-based programs. Most come from low-income families, often with one or both parents absent. Nearly one in five has an incarcerated family member, according to Save Our Youth’s annual report.
“Our goal is to equip them with the tools, skills and knowledge while they are still in middle school and high school so they can succeed after they graduate high school,” ideally continuing to college or a job-skills program, CEO Russel Dains said. Last year’s graduation rate was 84%, he said.
“It’s having that one person who can establish a trusting relationship,” Dains added. “And then when things get very difficult, they have someone to help them navigate through it.”
The pandemic “shined a big fat spotlight on how lonely our young people really are,” he said, motivating Save Our Youth to grow.
Its leaders hope to enlist more mentors in metro Denver, where it has a waiting list of 69 youth, while also expanding to new cities. Training for the first group of mentors in Colorado Springs was set to begin in early November.
Save our Youth
Address: 3443 W. 23rd Ave., Denver, CO 80211.
In operation since: 1994.
Number of employees: 18.
Annual budget: $1.8 million.
Clients served: 264 youth participants last year.
The Denver Post Season To Share is the annual holiday fundraising campaign for The Denver Post and The Denver Post Community Foundation, a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, tax identification #27-4328521. Grants are awarded to local nonprofit agencies that provide life-changing programs to help low-income children, families and individuals move out of poverty toward stabilization and self-sufficiency. Visit seasontoshare.com for more information.