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Three Planes

Kenny’s note: Though written from my perspective, this story isn’t about me. It is about a mentee named Jason, and someone who chose to get involved in his life. I want to pause for a moment and emphasize that it is not my intention to lift Jason or his mentor onto an imagined throne. Like you and I, both are human and capable of missteps. It should also be noted that this story could be expanded to include many other people, but for the purposes of this narrative I’m choosing to focus primarily on two people. Nevertheless, this is a real and important story that needs to be told and if you let it, it may just have a profound impact on your person.


In my office you will find three remote control airplanes suspended from the ceiling. Of those who wander into my office, some might not notice the planes. For others, who do lift their gaze high enough, these planes might appear to be merely decoration. To me, however, these planes are significant, and they serve as a monument and reminder of something of great importance: the power of relationships to change lives. As a gentle river is to a rock, so too is the refining and shaping power of well-intentioned relationships in our lives. Allow me to elaborate.


In 2015, I was introduced to a seventh grader making his way through the complexities of adolescence. I think most of us can relate; I know I can! In fact, Jason might have described this time in his life as a season of “survival”. For Jason, middle school was marked by “lackluster” (his word) academics, an unsettled homelife, a void of extracurricular involvement, and the absence of a noticeable direction in his life. Jason’s mannerisms were indicative of his condition. If you had met seventh-grade Jason, you would have counted yourself lucky to have made eye contact as his retinas seemed to be permanently glued to the floor. 


At nearly the same time I met Jason, I also met a man who had recently begun calling Chaffee County home.  That man went by the name of Burm. Burm had dedicated much of his professional life to the world of physics and the aerospace industry. Newly retired, Burm was looking to get involved in our mountain community and to take advantage of the outdoor activities here in the high country, especially his thirst for whitewater rafting.


As Jason remembers it, his interest in meeting with Burm was piqued when he discovered that Burm had worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. A friendship, albeit a bit awkward at first, was born. Jason and Burm officially began their mentoring relationship with Chaffee County Mentors in February 2015. Their bond strengthened through the subsequent days, weeks, months and years. In those days, you would have likely found them skiing (Burm) and snowboarding (Jason) at Monarch, launching Estes model rockets, flying RC planes, and poring over content at a physics study session at Burm’s home.


As I write this story, it's now March, 2024. Jason and I met for lunch last week, and he ordered tacos as he’s currently stationed in Aviano, Italy, and gets more than enough pizza and pasta. As we dug into our tacos, he recalled that his overall focus strengthened in high school as he involved himself in cross country running. Not surprisingly, Burm was instrumental in connecting Jason to this sport. According to Jason, this was a point in time that he discovered that “actually trying pays.” After graduating from Salida High School in the spring of 2020, he began pursuing opportunities in post-secondary education. Now, Jason is a Senior Airman with the United States Air Force and is an F16 Aircraft Mechanic. As you might expect, this is a high-pressure job that requires great attention to detail. “No one knows everything, but we know how to find everything”, commented Jason as he referenced the hundreds of manuals that come with his profession. 


While working full-time, sometimes including the occasional 16-hour shift, Jason has been taking two to three classes through Embry Riddle with the goal of attaining a BS in Aeronautics and a minor in Cyber Security. Jason credits the physics lessons he learned from Burm with his ability to manage his classes while holding down his job. As I sit at my desk and look up, I can’t help but think that Jason’s story likely would have a much different trajectory without someone like Burm in it. In the same way, I’m certain that Burm would tell you that his life has been enhanced by having Jason in it. 




Jason (L) and Burm, March 2024


Even though Jason and Burm officially closed their match with Chaffee County Mentors over five years ago, they continue to be involved in one another’s lives.


I want to encourage you to imagine yourself in this narrative. Which person in the story are you? Can you imagine for a moment the path your life may begin to take if you were to allow your gaze to be lifted off the floor? You already have so much inside of you waiting to come alive, and just need someone to take the time to get to know you and to be there to listen to your dreams. On the other hand, perhaps you’re the one who is ready to step in and be there for someone else. You’re an encourager, a supporter, you’re someone who willingly keeps showing up day after day, week after week.


When mentoring relationships are studied, the data supports what I have witnessed with Jason and Burm. Young people who have a mentor are more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities, take on leadership roles and eventually become a mentor themselves. Don’t forget the flipside, either; mentors often report that they experience an increase in personal growth, cultural awareness and productivity.


When I look up from my desk, I see three planes and I’m reminded of the undeniable power of mentoring. 


If this story caused your heart to do a somersault or your mind to be stirred toward action, contact Kenny Wilcox at 719-221-0238 or kwilcox@chaffeecounty.org. Your next great adventure awaits!


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