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'Bolder Options' mentoring has unexpected rewards

One of the unexpected benefits for Maetzin Saenz of signing up to be a mentor was that she learned more about herself in the process.

Saenz, a 2004 graduate of Woodbury High School, decided to take part in the Bolder Options mentoring program last fall.

Now, just a few weeks away from graduation from the program with her 12-year-old mentee, Megan Johnson, Saenz says the last year has been a learning curve for her.

"You think you are going to be the one helping them, but they teach you a lot, too," said Saenz, explaining how her view of the relationship formed between herself and Megan had changed rapidly.

"I have learned a lot working with Megan. It's definitely something you benefit a lot from and it's not just you teaching them; they teach you."

A large part of the Bolder Options program, which operates out of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is the running aspect of the year's activities.

Saenz says she and Megan had to complete at least three 5K runs together to graduate from Bolder Options, and that's in addition to all the other activities the two have taken part in, from watching a movie together to going for a meal or reading a book.

That meant a considerable amount of training together -- and it wasn't all straightforward, said Saenz, who still lives in Woodbury and is majoring in youth studies at the University of Minnesota.

"One day, I couldn't get Megan to run," she recalled. "Then she didn't want to even walk, so I was like, 'What are we going to do?'

"I started making up some dance movements and dances and she was really excited about that and started doing it.

"Then I realized I had to start enjoying it; it wasn't about getting things done. I kind of forgot about the purpose of it. I was forcing Megan to not like [the running], almost."

Johnson recalls feeling especially intimidated by the prospect of her first 5K run with Saenz, but says it was "super great" to complete the race.

Her favorite memories from the program over the past year include playing mini golf at the Walker Art Center and feasting on pizza in the backseat of Saenz's car while watching a movie on her laptop.

Johnson says she'd recommend Bolder Options to anyone as it is a lot of fun involving new people and new activities.

The pair meet up once or twice a week, and Saenz says she will always try to call Megan if for some reason meeting is impossible.

She hopes to keep in touch with Megan after their year-long stint with Bolder Options is up, and recommends getting involved with the program to anyone.

"I think it makes such a huge impact, especially if you are the type of person who's like, 'Yes, one day I'm going to do something for society,'" said Saenz.

"This is one thing you can do now and it's very do-able for any type of person.

"It's just about having a relationship with one person and being a friend and being someone they can depend on, no matter what their life situation is."