ALAMOSA — Having worked with youth all of his career, Aaron Miltenberger is excited to rejoin the Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley as executive director.
Miltenberger began working half time this week at the club as he continues transitioning from his post at Adams State University and will be full time on April 2.
“I am so excited. I can hardly wait to really get started,” Miltenberger said. “It has always been a dream of mine to go back and work there.”
Miltenberger, 41, had worked at the club as teen director and then Intel Clubhouse coordinator before taking a position at Adams State a decade ago.
But all of his life has been dedicated to assisting youth in one way or another.
“I have been working with youth development for the entirety of my professional career since I was 14 years old working with YMCA, youth camps, Boy Scouts of America camps, in college AmeriCorps programs working with young people in foster homes and community programs,” he said.
From Indianapolis, Indiana, Miltenberger “stumbled” into the San Luis Valley 18 years ago after leaving a position in Phoenix, Arizona, which was too big of a city and too hot for him — “not my bag.” He stopped for a cup of coffee at Milagros and played a game of chess with the barista there.
After 45 minutes or so a woman who had been sitting at another table came up to him and asked, with a southern Tennessee drawl, “You wouldn’t happen to work with kids?” When Miltenberger said that’s what he had been doing his whole life, the woman asked, “You wouldn’t happen to be looking for a job?”
After telling the woman, who turned out to be Suzy Rawls, that he was actually looking for a job, she offered him one at Mountain Trails Youth Ranch, which she and her husband Butch operated. (Suzy passed away two years ago.)
Miltenberger ran the summer program for the Rawls for two years. He then moved into another role working with youth through the San Juan Youthworks, a wilderness therapy program founded by Mike Truitt.
Miltenberger worked with that program for a number of years.
“I got to a point where I didn’t want to sleep outside really as much,” Miltenberger said. “I enjoy backpacking, but I enjoy a comfortable bed and electricity from time to time.”
Moving into a different phase of his life but still working with youth, he took a job with the Boys & Girls Club in the Valley, first as teen director and then as Intel Clubhouse coordinator, a position he held for three years.
Adams State’s Director of Student Life and Recreation Mick Daniel then convinced Miltenberger to apply for a position in his department, and he has enjoyed every day there for the past 10 years. As coordinator of student activities he has worked with students on events ranging from homecoming to new student orientation and became director of student life and campus recreation when Daniel left that position. Daniel is now coordinating San Luis Valley Great Outdoors – SLVGO.
“I have had a lot of fun here, met incredible people,” Miltenberger said. “The young people and students I have worked with have really driven me. There hasn’t been a day where I feel like I have shown up to work. We’re in a place of holding each other accountable, being the best version of ourselves and getting some real cool stuff done.”
When the opportunity opened at the Boys & Girls Club with director Chris Lopez taking a position at Adams State, Miltenberger was initially hesitant because he loved his job at ASU. However, after thinking about it he decided to apply with the idea that he could continue the good work Lopez had been doing at the club and move the club forward.
“He did some phenomenal things to position the club to reach to the next level.”
He added, “I just care about the young people in our community. They deserve the kind of services that the Boys & Girls Clubs provide for them at this next level.”
With the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, the San Luis Valley and Alamosa, one of the biggest roles for the club is to provide a positive place where youth can feel supported and develop resiliency to prevent drug use in the first place, Miltenberger said.
This is especially important to him as he considers his own children, ages 9 and 5. He said he believes there is nothing better that he can do than provide that positive place for youth. He has been involved for the past 18 months with IT Matters, promoting a medically assisted treatment program for opioid use.
He said he has thought about what happens in communities to cause opioid use and what could be done differently. Although intervention for adults who are already involved in drug use provides some success Miltenberger believes “really it’s about prevention. It’s about giving them the tools they need to prevent those things that cause opioid use disorder in the first place. We have got to do something before they start walking down that path.”
He is grateful for the B&G Clubs’ partnerships with local groups such as SLV GO and financial partners such as the Colorado Health Foundation that has made the San Luis Valley one of its key focus areas.
The club has also been fortunate for the long-time support of foundations such as the Johnson Foundation and Daniels Foundation. Other partners include local school districts and the Center for Restorative Programs, “lots of opportunities for collaboration with some of these programs that serve a common need.”
He added, “At the end of the day one of the things I have noticed this is the kind of place that builds a bigger table. We are all better when we work together.”
Miltenberger said the delay to beginning full time at the club has been intentional so that he could assist with the transition at Adams State. “It is real important to not be the kind of person that leaves people high and dry. I want to see my department and my people through these changes.”
He added, “I am excited now to go back and work with younger kids. I am not leaving student development. I am just going on the other side of the fence.” He said he will continue working with Adams State students as they come to the club to mentor the youth and will help prepare the youth to eventually attend ASU or Trinidad State Junior College.
The club serves school age children and currently has 532 members, 255 of whom are active on a regular basis. The club staff sees an average of 85 members per day. “That makes the building pretty busy,” he said.
Miltenberger commended the staff.
“The staff at the Boys & Girls Club is excellent. They have been doing an excellent job on creating a safe space, really positive things for young people. We’ve got some really trained folks. Three of the staff have master’s degrees and they are passionate about young people and doing a great job.
“It’s really fortunate everything’s working really well. I don’t have to fix something that’s broken. Chris did a great job. It’s just how can we level it up, broaden the impact and find more partnerships.”
He added, “I really care deeply about our community. I care about the future of our community. We are at a crossroads, and the decisions we make as a community are really going to determine who we are 20 years from now, and I want to be a part of helping things go right.”