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Sophomore Marcus Lotti and eight-grader Ashton Montez were paired through the Hillsdale Youth Men­toring Program. Courtesy|Pam Montez

If you walk by the benches outside the weight room in the Roche Sports Complex on Monday at 4:30 p.m., there’s a good chance you’ll see sophomore Marcus Lotti and eighth grader Ashton Montez playing Polish poker or Gin rummy, dis­cussing what they want to eat for dinner that night or the most recent song dis­covery they’ve made.

The meeting is set up by the GOAL Hillsdale Youth Men­toring Program, which aims to help at risk youth and provide men­torship for the Hillsdale com­munity. The program has about 15 to 20 stu­dents who meet with their mentees, nor­mally at Davis Middle school.

Building the rela­tionship happens for each pair dif­fer­ently. For Lotti and Montez, that rela­tionship began with cards and music. After almost two semesters, Lotti has found a certain famil­iarity with both Montez and his grand­mother and guardian, Pam Montez.

“I think we all clicked,” Pam Montez said. “That is very important because we don’t always click with people.”

At first, the rela­tionship was slow going. Ashton Montez is gen­erally very shy, while Lotti describes himself as “the most out­going of all the kids in his family.”

The two, however, have made progress.

“I think we’re at the point of feeling com­fortable,” Pam Montez said. “It helps to have Ashton be around people who are more out­going. We have come a long way in getting over that in the last year.”

Ashton Montez and Lotti have gotten so com­fortable that they Facebook message each other with song sug­ges­tions.

“I’m glad he’s com­fortable enough to reach out to Marcus,” Pam Montez said. “Ashton doesn’t trust easily so it’s fan­tastic that he trusts Marcus enough to Facebook message him.”

As they con­tinue to build the rela­tionship, Lotti describes the slow nature of such a thing, but the impor­tance which cannot be under­valued.

“Being able to look up to someone in whatever way shape and form and have them sit down and talk to you, it’s great,” Lotti said. “In whatever way I’m able to do that, I have a duty to.”

Although their inter­ac­tions may be only once a week for 30 to 45 minutes, the effects have been clear to Pam Montez.

“Marcus is con­sistent and that’s very important to Ashton to be con­sistent and respon­sible,” Pam Montez said. “Marcus is always here.”

As a single grand­mother, Pam Montez felt that she needed to find someone to be a male role model for Ashton Montez.

“He needed to have someone in his life, a male rodel who is a good decent person,” Pam Montez said. “Someone who is striving for more in life than just aver­a­geness.”

After meeting Lotti for the first time, Pam Montez was con­fident in his char­acter.

“From the get-go I liked Marcus” Pam Montez said. “He’s intel­ligent and he’s got a very good heart. And that’s really appealing. It’s important for any person, including a young man, to have a good heart.”

Head of the men­toring program senior Rosemary Pynes empha­sizes the rela­tional nature of the program as well as the vital element of con­sis­tency.

“The goal of the program is to build real rela­tion­ships,” Pynes said. “We try to make sure our mentors go con­sis­tently and through that rela­tionship show the kids that they matter to someone.”

In building a rela­tionship, giving is the only way to establish trust and go beyond the surface level.

“We are going to give some­thing of our­selves,” Pynes said. When you invest in a rela­tionship it’s two way. You have to give some­thing for them to give some­thing back.”