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A 30 year Journey of Inspiration and Impact

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Hey there, Bolder family! Can you believe it? Our beloved youth mentoring program turned 30 this year! Let's take a trip down memory lane as we celebrate this milestone anniversary.

How did Bolder Options get started?

Bill Steele, in his role as the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Jaycees Charitable Foundation (MJCF), started Bolder Options in Minneapolis in 1993. The Jaycees supported many youth programs financially but didn’t want to just give money to programs, they also wanted to create new programs. Bill Steele and Paul Ramsour (who was at the time also working for MJCF) partnered with the Minnesota Distance Running Association and Operation Denovo - a diversion program in Minneapolis - to form a running mentoring program called Bolder Options.

Darrell came on board in 1995 (more about that below) and for a while was the only staff person. Dan Pfarr came on as a mentor very early on in the program - and brought in one of the first young people to participate in the mentoring program. Dan was a social worker and in addition to being a mentor, Dan helped Darrell navigate many tough situations that kids were dealing with. Dan later joined Bolder Options as a grant writer before spending many years as Associate Director, helping to grow Bolder Options into the enduring program it is now.

All of these leaders - Bill Steele, Paul Ramsour, Dan Pfarr, and Darrell - along with many other long-time champions of Bolder Options - still come together monthly for a “founders lunch” at Bolder Options.

Why are we called Bolder Options?

A judge in Boulder, CO heard about a program in Amsterdam that had seen positive outcomes when they connected kids involved with the juvenile justice system with mentors and had them run together. He got a program started in Colorado and it won a Nike Innovative Fitness award. Thanks to that award, Bill Steele read about the Colorado program in a running magazine. He called the leader of the program there, a woman named Kim Fields, and asked if it was okay to try to replicate it here, with the same name. Not only did they say yes, but for several years, Bolder Options drove kids from Minneapolis to Boulder, CO to run in the BOLDERBoulder 10K with the Colorado youth. Unfortunately, the program in Colorado ended after a few years but thanks to support from the Minneapolis Jaycees Charitable Foundation, the program in Minnesota kept going and growing! (Fun fact: Darrell still stays in touch with Kim Fields and sends her updates on our Minnesota program!)

The name Bolder Options is rooted in Boulder, Colorado but what it means to us is that through mentorship and our other programs, we help young people discover Bolder Options for their futures.

How did Darrell Thompson get involved with Bolder Options?

Bill Steele and Darrell Thompson met in the 90s through the Invite Program. Invite was a program in the inner city for kids who were getting in trouble. Ira Smith (“Smitty”) - a legendary Northside hero – ran this program. Darrell and his best friend, Mac Stephens, volunteered with the Invite program. They hosted Midnight basketball, brought in speakers to talk with kids, chaperoned kids when they had tickets to games, supervised tutoring sessions, and drove kids to and from their homes. During one of those drives, Darrell remembers a young man asking him, “Why are you doing this? You don’t have to do this,” and then thanked him for showing up. Darrell says, “It kind of brought me to my knees a bit, and I started to think maybe I should do this instead of chasing a dollar.”

Bill Steele had an office down the hallway from Ira, and the Jaycees provided financial support for the Midnight Basketball program. Ira encouraged Darrell to go down there and just talk to Bill and let him know how the Invite Program was going. (This is still a big part of Darrell’s approach to fundraising - just go talk to them!)

While he was still playing football, Darrell volunteered during the off season with Bolder Options. After he retired from the NFL, Bill invited him to work for the program part-time. Bill noticed that Darrell signed letters and emails with “peace” so gave him the title of “Peace Program Manager.” This first job included working for Youth Networks (a community youth program that Paul Ramsour and Darrell ran together in North & South Minneapolis) - and the “Smitty” scholarship program (funded by the Jaycees in honor of the late Ira Smith) in addition to Bolder Options. Other programs faded over time but according to Darrell, “Bolder Options had the magic. It was new - physical activity connected to mentoring. Goal setting, races on the weekends, mentors, having a curriculum where we talked about different things. It was fresh and unique and people kept saying that we should keep doing it.”

Despite offers of potentially lucrative fields of work, Darrell says that it was seeing the impact it made for a few of those early kids on his caseload that got into his heart. He could see the difference that a consistent adult showing up for them had on their mindset, their confidence, and their other relationships. He was hooked on youth work and has never regretted it.

He was promoted later to Program Manager for Bolder Option and was the only staff person for a while. In 1998, Bolder Options became a separate nonprofit with its own 501c3 status - and Darrell stepped in as Executive Director.

The Bolder Options House - 2100 Stevens Ave

When Bolder Options started, the “office” was just a desk at Jaycees' office. The organization moved around to a few different spots, renting offices here and there. In 2004, John Hartwell, while battling terminal cancer, told Darrell, “I have $100,000 to give to you. I want to give it to you now for a down payment on a permanent space.” Bolder Options found our iconic headquarters, a block away from where they had been renting, and named it the “John and Lucy Hartwell Center for Youth Mentoring” in honor of John and Lucy’s transformational gift and longtime support. We wouldn’t have this amazing space - and the stability it provides - without them.

**Another fun fact: When Bolder first moved in, someone was still renting the 3rd floor as a personal residence!

Has the Bolder Options program changed over the years?

Throughout the years, Bolder Options programming has evolved to better meet the needs of our young people. It began as a three-month mentoring program focused on youth preparing to run a 10K race. It then expanded to a year-long program focused on running and biking. Today it is still a year-long one-to-one mentoring program but includes all kinds of physical activity, getting outside in nature, nutrition, and mental health as part of our approach to promoting healthy living. We also now offer our alumni program that offers educational, career, and internship opportunities.

Yet the one thing that has remained consistent is the heart-to-heart connections we make with our mentees. Our mentors' commitment is inspiring. They've journeyed side by side with our youth, helping them set goals, overcome challenges, and discover the extraordinary within themselves. From boosting grades to building life skills, our mentors have made a lasting impact on so many bright young minds.

The ripple effect of Bolder Options is felt in our community. We've seen it firsthand: mentees who have gone on to enroll in college, become mentors themselves, or even work at Bolder Options. Every time we see a mentee achieve their dreams, we know that our work has been truly meaningful.

As we look ahead to the next 30 years, the need for Bolder Options is greater than ever. Our youth face incredible challenges, and it's up to us to be there for them. With our unwavering commitment and immense love for our community, Bolder Options will continue to be an encouraging and safe place for our young people, empowering them to face any hurdle that comes their way. Happy 30th anniversary, Bolder Options! We've come so far, and it's all thanks to the vision of our founder, Bill Steele, the dedication of our president, Darrell Thompson, and the incredible support from our mentors, families, advocates, and community.

Today’s need is tomorrow's promise. By giving to Bolder Options, you ensure that youth continue to receive the support they need.

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