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2019 RACC Youth Apprentice Ashley Medina working for Cowgirl Creations, Ridgway, Colo.

In a world of oversaturation of media and electronic devices, it’s refreshing to see youth within our community reach out and get involved in apprenticeships that foster hard work and connections with traditional hands-on skills.

In that one sentence, RIGS Fly Shop & Guide Service Co-owner Tim Patterson captured the sentiments of many employers and parents. It’s common to see young, unengaged employees, heads in their smartphones at jobs that are just a way to get a little extra spending money. More familiar yet are the jobless teenagers, either uninterested or unable to find employment due to limited job availability in small, rural towns.

Patterson was commenting on his experience as a mentor in the inaugural summer of the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce Youth Apprenticeship Program, funded by the 2018 Ridgway Chamber Open. This year’s golf tournament is coming up on Saturday, September 14 at the Divide Ranch & Club, and will raise money for the summer 2020 apprenticeships.

“Our youth apprentice was brought on to fill a critical role for the company and was tasked with an accelerated rate of comprehension. His dedication, impeccable timing and readiness were invaluable traits we look for from any of our employees,” he said of 14-year-old Zach Sauer.

Sauer was one of three apprentices at three Ridgway businesses funded by the $3,600 raised by last year’s Chamber Open proceeds. Two additional businesses, Mountain Girl Gallery and Beautifully Served by Jill, applied for the program but could not participate due to insufficient funding. Increased donations at the 2019 golf tournament would mean more opportunities for businesses and students alike.

The program grew out of the chamber’s philosophy that local business success is predicated on local talent, and that the town’s first priority talent pool should be its existing residents and youth. The apprenticeships include valuable professional development, as well as providing extra staffing capacity to businesses.

At RIGS, Sauer primarily assisted in preparing gear for three-day overnight trips in the Gunnison Gorge – an “absolutely amazing, beautiful place” to spend part of his work days. The job helped him realize that his interest in fishing could turn into a future job as a guide.

“When we were waiting for the boats to come down on the mules, I got to watch one of the guides fishing and he taught me a lot about finding certain good fishing areas,” he recalled. “The owners and staff taught me all sorts of things about fishing, guiding, preparing for trips, and working in general.”

For 17-year-old Ashley Medina, learning on the job was fun and meaningful under the supervision of the store manager and lead designer at Cowgirl Creations Flowers & Gifts. Her duties included putting together floral arrangements for weddings and other occasions, setting up displays, and posting to social media.

“I definitely appreciate having this opportunity. I’m really interested to learn the many aspects of running a small business,” Medina said. “I did not know if I wanted to minor in business in college and this experience helped me realize I want to.”

Erin Stadelman, owner of Cowgirl Creations, described Medina as “a bright, energetic young woman with a lot of great ideas. Not only is she a top-notch front sales member, she has also become a valued member of our floral design team.”

The third apprentice, 15-year-old Kelli Donivan, was also highly valued for the new ideas she brought to her employer, Lucky Find Consignments. She worked mostly in customer service and the day-to-day upkeep of the shop, including organizing displays and preparing consignments for for display.

Her mentor, Lynne Stovicek, explained, “The most significant part of having an apprentice was having a fresh perspective. It’s been a joy for me to watch as Kelli has developed her people skills this summer.”

“I cannot say enough about what a wonderful opportunity the Apprenticeship Program has been for me. Lucky Find Consignments is a small shop, and I am usually the only person who works here,” she added.

For Donivan, the apprenticeship started with the valuable experience of figuring out how to make a resume. Another positive experience was repetitively opening and closing the shop a few times a week and growing from needing to consult the procedure list to doing things from memory.

“A significant part of the apprenticeship for me was the socializing, requiring me to go outside my comfort zone and improve my communication skills and alleviate my stress while talking to those who I am unfamiliar with,” she also admitted.

All three apprentices agreed that without the chamber’s promotion and funding of the program, they probably would not have found similar opportunities, and the businesses probably would not have taken a chance on hiring younger employees and keeping them for more days than was usually affordable. Each apprentice plans to continue part-time work after their apprenticeship is over, prioritizing school and sports first.

All three mentors agreed that participating in the Ridgway Chamber Open is a win-win for players, whether they are the top golfers or not. They get to enjoy a day with friends on a golf course with some of the most extraordinary views, plus they are directly contributing to a program that encourages local youth to proactively participate in the development of valuable real-life skills.   

The Ridgway Chamber Open on Saturday, Sept. 14 at Divide Ranch & Club begins at 8 a.m. with registration and breakfast, followed by a shotgun start at 9 a.m. and 18 holes of golf. Following tournament play will be an Awards Celebration and a “Taste of Ridgway” lunch with food from chamber member businesses and live music by local favorite David Nunn. This year’s platinum event sponsor is RiverSage Ridgway LLC, with more than 25 other local and regional business sponsors. To get information, donate or register to play, go to