Bright Futures

Cameron Stanger (from left), mentor Donna Johnson, Bright Futures Mentoring Program Executive Director Michelle Tidball, and Haylie Smith meet last summer at the Irma Hotel. Johnson first mentored twins Stanger and Smith about 10 years ago, and the three continue to stay in touch.

January marks National Mentoring Month and – while making a mark in the community – Bright Futures Mentoring Program also is making a mark on individuals in Cody.

The program was established here in 2000, and has benefited Cody children, specifically, ever since.

“I’m excited about Bright Futures,” executive director Michelle Tidball says. “Mentoring allows a child to see the world in a different vein.”

The 501(c)3 program connects with about 150 kids each month.

“Some are at-risk, but not all of them,” Tidball adds. “Mentoring is just a friend and someone to walk through life with.”

The program offers community mentoring, in-school community mentoring, high school mentoring, self esteem mentoring, gifted and talented mentoring, and high school students mentoring other students.

Students in the program often take time to give back to the community. Last year, for example, they created Easter baskets for people who can’t easily leave their home.

Donna Johnson has been a mentor with Bright Futures for 10 years.

She said she decided to mentor because she raised four kids and thought of herself as a “pretty good mother.”

She met twins Cameron Stanger and Haylie Stanger Smith in her first year, and has had a relationship with them ever since.

Cameron and Haylie were 11 at the time and now are 21.

Stanger cooks at La Comida and Smith, a mother of two, works at Aaron’s in Cody.

“I was lucky because they (Bright Futures) had a set of twins,” Johnson says. “I got two for the price of one.”

“I can’t imagine turning them in for new ones – it’s not that kind of a deal,” Johnson says with a laugh.

Throughout their 10-year relationship the twins and Johnson have taken an airplane ride, visited Red Lodge and Thermopolis, made pottery, crafted Indian medicine bags, went ice skating, played basketball, saw a magic show, walked dogs and brushed cats at the Humane Society, carved pumpkins, went on trolley trips and attended Bright Futures group activities.

The plane ride was the twins’ first time in a plane and they flew over their mother’s workplace. When passing over, the pilot tipped the wings, rocking the plane.

Being a mentor means connecting with kids through the best and worst of times, Johnson said.

“There were some rocky times, but that’s what life is,” Johnson said.

Through the worst of it, Johnson stuck with the twins.

“She (Johnson) believed in me – that I could get through it,” Stanger said. “It’s nice to have someone who has your back.”

The tough times have passed for now and today everyone is well.

“I consider both of my kids successful,” Johnson says.

Scheduling makes it tough to connect these days (Johnson travels, Stanger works and Smith is a working mother), but they still meet up when they can.

“For the rest of my life, I’ll try to get a hold of her (Johnson) and get together,” Stanger says.

Johnson adds that her drive to connect with the twins made the endeavor successful.

“I put my heart and soul into this job because I care,” she says. “The more you put in, the more you get.”

Community members can become mentors by contacting Bright Futures. There are other ways to help without being a mentor through organizing, hosting or sponsoring an event.

For more information, call Bright Futures, 527-6688, or visit


•Hula Hoop to the Future, Friday, Jan. 31, 5-7 p.m. at the senior center.

•Toast to the Future, May 16, highlights high school artists. A food and wine pairing will be followed by a silent auction featuring artwork from students. The time and location will be announced later.

•Coast to the Future held in mid-summer is a 61-mile bike ride beginning at the rodeo grounds and traveling up the South Fork and back.

Additional details and events will be updated on the website.

(Corey Morris can be reached at

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