Thank you to Lammé and Associates.
Alison Pogorelz will never look at Italian sodas the same way again.
The 23 year-old Psychology senior at Colorado Mesa University (CMU) is leaning on the counter inside The House, perusing through the memory of her digital camera. She finally lands on the photo she was looking for.
“Oh, there it is!” she exclaims as she turns her camera around to reveal the image to the rest of us in the room. Two hands grasping two glasses of Italian sodas, one hand hers and the other hand that of a former resident of The House that she is now mentoring as part of an internship she is doing through The House.
Pogorelz, a native of Fort Morgan, Colorado, has been volunteering at The House since January to fulfill her practicum requirement in the Colorado Mesa Counseling Psychology program.
“A practicum is an internship where you go out and get hands-on experience,” said Pogorelz. “It’s required in order to graduate.”
Pogorelz is the very first Colorado Mesa intern at The House. In order to fulfill the requirement, Pogorelz needs to accumulate 180 hours at the institution she volunteers at, which, so far, has not been much of a problem.
“I’m almost a whole month ahead of my 180 hours than most of the other people in my major,” she said. “That’s kind of a sign that you’ve found your place.”
Pogorelz could not have asked for any better place to fulfill her internship.
“It just fits my personality,” she said. “I’m able to be who I am and voice my opinions. I want to work with teens, and I think the kids have made it so unique that it fits. The open family communication helps me be myself. Everyone’s opinion is heard and it’s just an open, welcoming environment.”
Pogorelz is striving to become a therapist, specializing in women and younger people and how they relate to issues such as self-esteem, self-image, and bullying.
“You definitely have to have the heart to work with teens and the right personality to make a difference in somebody else’s life,” said Pogorelz. “If you ask me to sell something, I would not be able to do it, but if you ask me to help someone improve or help someone toward a goal, that’s where my heart is.”
An environment such as The House, according to Pogorelz, has been a breeding ground for growth in the areas she strives to excel in.
“It’s been very easy to pursue my goals,” she said, “because The House is very open and welcoming. I was really surprised; I’ve never been in such a community that feels like family like this one is. Everybody’s here for the right reason: to help improve someone else’s life.”
Pogorelz’ role at The House is a multi-faceted one. She receives significant exposure to the professional side – a participator in the steering committee meetings, the staffing of the kids, and interaction with John Mok-Lamme, the Executive Director, and Ashley Elliott, the Case Manager. But she is also heavily involved in the lives of the teens – working shifts at The House, as well as her role as a mentor.
“I wanted to become part of the mentor program from the get-go,” she said. “Its’ a far-fetched goal, because you can’t really force a relationship with a teen after he or she has left The House. But fortunately, I found this awesome teen, and we really click together.”
For nearly three months, Alison has been spending significant time with this teen.
“We go get Italian sodas all the time,” she said, “we go the movies, we go to the mall, we talk about boys. It’s very rewarding.”
Because most of the teens that enter The House are minors, the staff at The House makes every effort to protect their identity, including avoiding photos of the teens’ faces. For this reason, Pogorelz saves photos of, for instance, her hand and the teen’s hand grasping Italian sodas, or of her feet and the teen’s feet dangling off a chair. They’re the closest portraits she can capture of the teen that’s changed her life.
“We just understand each other,” she said. “I just want everyone I mentor to feel supported and have someone in their life that they feel safe to talk to. And without judgment, which I think is very challenging for some of these people, just because they’ve been hurt so much, and they soon lose all ability to trust.”
Pogorelz now enlarges the photo of her and the teen grasping their soda to show the rest of us. On the bottom of the photo, Pogorelz had inserted a text, which read: “Lasting relationships begin with one Italian soda at a time!”
“Just to be a positive role model is at the heart of me,” Pogorelz said. “I can learn all the mental health language I want, but that won’t do me any good if I’m not a positive role model for the teens.”
Needless to say, the “positive role modeling” has gone in both directions.
“It’s definitely changed my life,” said Pogorelz. “That’s another thing I’ve learned is that it’s really easy to attach yourself to others. And it’s really easy to have really high expectations for them, and when they don’t reach them, it’s very difficult. But I wouldn’t change any of this for the world.”
Just recently, Pogorelz helped the teen prepare for her senior prom. Pogorelz helped her put her dress on and drove her to her date’s house.
“She was so nervous she actually asked me to walk to the door with her,” Pogorelz said.
Pogorelz intends on volunteering at The House long after she graduates from CMU in May. Her mentoring role will continue, with this current teen and who knows how many other teens.
“We’re the first family that some of these kids have,” she said. “A lot of these kids are working as hard as they can to make something of themselves. But a lot of the time we’re the first real connection that they’ve had.”
And Pogorelz will see to it that those connections continue. One soda at a time.