Hiking and Baking and Laughing…Oh My

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Bridgette and MJ take a break from their hiking adventure.

For MJ and Bridgette, participating in the Youth Assist Program (YAP) through Cortland Prevention Resources has been an exciting journey. During their five-year mentorship, the pair have explored new activities and challenged one another to learn and expand their horizons. YAP is a free program offered to local youth ages 9 to 18. Trained mentors help youth gain confidence, improve social skills, and recognize and build assets.

MJ has volunteered for years with local agencies, but was attracted to YAP because of the support it offers to both the youth and mentors participating. “[The program] is clear on things they would like you to focus on. They give you direction.” This guidance is a positive for volunteers who might be new to mentoring or unsure of what activities to pursue with their mentees.

Bridgette heard about the program through her brother, who participated before her. He enjoyed his time in YAP so much that he recommended that his younger sister sign up. She did just that and has been with MJ since the age of 11.

The pair enjoy a wide variety of activities together that range from canoeing to baking, Shakespeare in the Park to ice skating on MJ’s frozen pond in the winter. They are also very active in the hiking community and participate in the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC). Bridgette and MJ have hiked as far as seven miles in one day and have traveled as far as Allegany State Park to check out the trails. Of course, they had to buy hiking equipment in order to do this but were able to find a Bass Pro Shops promo code that made it much cheaper for them to buy. Bridgette is even a charter member of the FLTC’s Orange Hat Society, a sort of inside joke between members involving some coveted orange baseball cMJ Caz. college - croppedaps.

The two also volunteer their time together, visiting the Cortland SPCA. It was while Bridgette and MJ were on a FLTC hiking trip in Cazenovia that these two worlds collided. They saw a woman with a dog who looked remarkably like Sadie, a dog they loved to walk and play with while volunteering at the SPCA before she was adopted. After greeting the woman and asking about her dog, they discovered that it was in fact their friend Sadie from the SPCA. Bridgette and MJ were pleasantly surprised at the happy coincidence.

For Bridgette, baking and food were two things that changed a lot for her by spending time with MJ. She is more health conscious now and willing to experiment with her foods and try new things, such as whole wheat bread and cauliflower. But baking is where the two really shine. “We love being in the kitchen together,” MJ smiled. They recently baked an impressive cake in honor of Bridgette’s brother getting his learner’s permit.

While Bridgette and MJ have plenty of fun in the local area, they have also taken trips to New York City and Washington D.C., among other places. These trips were exciting as well as educational and included visits to national museums and landmarks, and participation in cultural events. Their list of shared memories is continuous, and they could not help but laugh and smile as they recounted their adventures over soda and snacks. If one of them tries something new, the other is likely to be right beside her.

“I love new activities,” MJ commented, “and I love bringing Bridgette with me.” That does not necessarily mean they always end up liking the same things. Bridgette is not a huge fan of snowshoeing, and MJ is skeptical of some of the light-hearted stunts Bridgette enjoys, such as tipping their canoe over in her pond. But they like keeping each other on their toes.

“I’m always learning Cake croppednew things,” MJ laughed. “Bridgette keeps me in touch with the younger generation.”

“We should go see Furious 7,” Bridgette enthusiastically suggested to MJ at the end of our conversation.

“Would someone who is on the level of The Sound of Music enjoy that one?” MJ asked suspiciously.

Participating in YAP has filled Bridgette and MJ’s lives with rich experiences, and they recommend it to anyone who is interested. “I guess the bottom line is I simply enjoy mentoring!” MJ wrote in an e-mail. “And I definitely enjoy Bridgette. I enjoy the activities we do together, and I enjoy watching her grow.”

In addition to individual mentoring, YAP also provides homework help and weekly activities. If you would like more information on YAP or how to volunteer as a mentor, contact Linnay Harmer at (607) 756-8970 x260 or via e-mail at lharmer@fcscortland.org.