Being a Mentor Can Change Lives of I/DD Community Members

A select group of five 2020 Community Counts! program members take on the role of mentors to new group of individuals with I/DD in 2021-22.

Being a Mentor Can Change Lives of I/DD Community Members

By Eliza Marie Somers

What a difference a year makes!

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change really is inevitable. And for a group of persons experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), who served on the Community Counts! program, the Pandemic Period truly was a time of transformation.

“When I first started the program I felt like someone was choking me, that’s how nervous I was,” Jocelyn Roy said. But with the help and encouragement of CTAT, LLC, founders Joanne Cohen and Gayann Brandenburg, Roy explained she became more confident throughout the program in 2020.

“I felt better each and every time,” Roy said of being a panelist.

The Community Counts! program, created by CTAT, LLC, in conjunction with the City and County of Denver, encourages inclusion for people with I/DD, and continues in 2021-22 with the addition Mentoring 101: Helping Others is Helping Yourself as a select group of five 2020 members take on the role of mentors to new group of individuals with I/DD. This new series will support the mentors continued growth and development and “raise their own personal bar.”

With her added confidence, Roy became a board member of the Wayfaring Band in January 2021, and in March 2021 she spoke at Regis University at the college’s “Access for All: Race and Disability Justice” forum. Wayfaring Band offers programs and road trips to serve adults who experience I/DD, as well as neurotypical leadership fellows.

With skills she learned during the Community Counts! program, Jocelyn Roy is now a board member of the Wayfaring Band, a group that offers road trips to people with I/DD.

“I’m taking what I learned (with Community Counts!) about leadership skills, and taking it to my BIPOC caucus,” Roy said.

Joining Roy as mentors are Chris Patton, Dennis Carbrey, Alan Staude and Erin Bargman.

“I can’t wait to get started,” Carbrey said about being a mentor. While Patton added he was “eager to mentor.”

Being a mentor is no easy task, and Brandenburg and Cohen provided training for the group during numerous sessions via Zoom.

“We are here to give you tips on how to make your mentee successful,” Brandenburg said. Along with helping their mentees, the program provided mentors with enhanced communication skills, such as body language, tone, pitch and volume.

Some of the other success tips taught to the mentors included:

  • Modeling
  • Coaching
  • Building Trust
  • Feedback: Dos and Don’ts
  • Stress Management.

Staude summed up what it means to be a good mentor, “We are here to give someone a shoulder when they are down,” he said.

Giving feedback can be a sticky proposition, but Staude said it best, “when giving advice you have to keep your composure.”

Alan Staude, who works at Home Depot, says one must keep their composure when giving advice.

Roy said her mentor Amy Siegel at Access Gallery is a good example of someone giving positive and supportive feedback.

“Amy encourages me. She always pushes me to be better,” Roy explained. “She will say good stuff first, and then tell me what I need to work on.”

“Yes,” Brandenburg said. “If all you hear is negative, negative, negative, how can you be successful? Mentors need to cheer people on. … And give people ideas on how to fix a problem.”

Staude said feedback is “complex and necessary to teaching. You can go from a bad situation to a good situation with feedback.”

Brandenburg stated that building trust is crucial to being a successful mentor, and it sometimes can be difficult to instill trust.

“Some people have been let down in life. Maybe they were bullied when they were younger. We don’t know their background,” she said. “Sometimes people need more time. So spend time doing something thing together.”

Carbrey concurred, “Trust doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “You really have to give it some thought. You have to get to know someone.”

Dennis Carbrey says trust is something you have to build and that it doesn’t happen overnight.

Bargman suggested sharing something personal to gain your mentee’s trust.

The mentors also learned several stress management techniques to share with their mentees in the upcoming sessions.

Cohen asked the mentors to practice a 6-3-6 breathing technique, (breathe in for six seconds, hold for three seconds and breathe out for six seconds) and to use the window method to stop stress in its tracks.

With a window you can still see through it, but you can shut your window if you are having a negative experience or leave it open when you are in a good situation, Cohen explained.

Mentor Erin Bargman compares the window method of stress management to closing a window to stop “toxic pollen” from getting inside.

“It’s like allergies,” Bargman said, “if you leave the window open you get toxic pollen.”

With the seminars being conducted virtually, mentors learned some “Zoom etiquette” techniques that all of us can practice, such as making sure you are sitting up and in the center of the camera, not moving around or eating or smoking while on Zoom.


Other communication skills the mentors learned involved listening skills, and how making eye contact can be useful while some people may have a hard time making eye contact.

“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak,” Brandenburg said.

Mentors also learned some dos and don’ts  as they work with their mentees:

  • Do be patient
  • Do be sensitive to others
  • Do be kind
  • Do be flexible
  • Listen with an open heart.

Some of the don’ts included:

  • Don’t break trust
  • Don’t be critical or judge
  • Don’t be unrealistic.

At the end of the six-week session the mentors left with these tidbits of guidance they can impart to their mentees.

  • “Face your fears,” Bargman said.
  • “Show up to learn,” Carbrey said.
  • “Regardless of what is going on, always respect those around you at any given moment,” Staude said.
  • “Everybody has different views on things, and you have to respect what they believe, even if you don’t agree with them,” Roy said. “If we were all the same the world would be boring.”

“Be hungry for success and it will eat the fear,” Patton said. “To guide them in whatever they need to do the best they can, and to challenge themselves.”

Chris Patton says a mentor must challenge mentees to do their best.

As members of the Community Counts! team, the mentors not only gained confidence and skills to take into the community, many said they gained friendship and allies.

“This group has been like a family to me,” Roy said. “It always makes me happy to be around you guys.”

“This group brightens our days when we come together,” Staude concurred.