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Making Quality Time: Program Links Youngsters, Mentors

  • Jon Gover jokes with Danny Dover while fishing for trout at Texas Falls in Hancock, Vt., earlier this month. The pair have been getting together for more than a year. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Jon Gover jokes with Danny Dover while fishing for trout at Texas Falls in Hancock, Vt., earlier this month. The pair have been getting together for more than a year. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Danny Dover, 63, of Bethel, left, helps Jon Gover, 11, build a teepee at Jon’s East Bethel home in mid-April. The two get together at least once a week as part of the Windsor County Partners mentoring program. Jon said he likes working on projects with Dover. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Danny Dover, 63, of Bethel, left, helps Jon Gover, 11, build a teepee at Jon’s East Bethel home in mid-April. The two get together at least once a week as part of the Windsor County Partners mentoring program. Jon said he likes working on projects with Dover. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jon Gover laughs as Danny Dover tries to balance a baseball bat on his nose while they spend time together at Jon’s East Bethel home in mid-April. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Jon Gover laughs as Danny Dover tries to balance a baseball bat on his nose while they spend time together at Jon’s East Bethel home in mid-April. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Danny Dover and Jon Gover take advantage of a warm April afternoon to have a snowball fight at a Barnard sugarbush that belongs to Dover’s friend. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Danny Dover and Jon Gover take advantage of a warm April afternoon to have a snowball fight at a Barnard sugarbush that belongs to Dover’s friend. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jon Gover and Danny Dover toast each other with root beer, popcorn and clementines in Jon’s “man cave,” a camper that was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and is parked behind Jon’s father’s home. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Jon Gover and Danny Dover toast each other with root beer, popcorn and clementines in Jon’s “man cave,” a camper that was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and is parked behind Jon’s father’s home. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Danny Dover, left, of Bethel, and Jon Gover, 11, of East Bethel, try on each other’s hats while spending time together in early April. As part of the Windsor County Partners program, the pair get together at least once a week. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Danny Dover, left, of Bethel, and Jon Gover, 11, of East Bethel, try on each other’s hats while spending time together in early April. As part of the Windsor County Partners program, the pair get together at least once a week. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Taking a break while weeding the flower garden next to his "Man Cave" in East Bethel, Jon Gover, 11, talks to Danny Dover, of Bethel, about a news story he heard on the radio while the pair spend time together at Gover's home in mid-April. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Taking a break while weeding the flower garden next to his "Man Cave" in East Bethel, Jon Gover, 11, talks to Danny Dover, of Bethel, about a news story he heard on the radio while the pair spend time together at Gover's home in mid-April. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jon Gover, 11, of East Bethel, talks with Danny Dover, of Bethel, while fishing for trout at Texas Falls in Hancock, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Jon Gover, 11, of East Bethel, talks with Danny Dover, of Bethel, while fishing for trout at Texas Falls in Hancock, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jon Gover jokes with Danny Dover while fishing for trout at Texas Falls in Hancock, Vt., earlier this month. The pair have been getting together for more than a year. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Danny Dover, 63, of Bethel, left, helps Jon Gover, 11, build a teepee at Jon’s East Bethel home in mid-April. The two get together at least once a week as part of the Windsor County Partners mentoring program. Jon said he likes working on projects with Dover. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Jon Gover laughs as Danny Dover tries to balance a baseball bat on his nose while they spend time together at Jon’s East Bethel home in mid-April. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Danny Dover and Jon Gover take advantage of a warm April afternoon to have a snowball fight at a Barnard sugarbush that belongs to Dover’s friend. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Jon Gover and Danny Dover toast each other with root beer, popcorn and clementines in Jon’s “man cave,” a camper that was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and is parked behind Jon’s father’s home. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Danny Dover, left, of Bethel, and Jon Gover, 11, of East Bethel, try on each other’s hats while spending time together in early April. As part of the Windsor County Partners program, the pair get together at least once a week. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Taking a break while weeding the flower garden next to his "Man Cave" in East Bethel, Jon Gover, 11, talks to Danny Dover, of Bethel, about a news story he heard on the radio while the pair spend time together at Gover's home in mid-April. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Jon Gover, 11, of East Bethel, talks with Danny Dover, of Bethel, while fishing for trout at Texas Falls in Hancock, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Bethel — Jon Gover spots his mentor, Danny Dover, and breaks into a run.

“Danny!” he shouts, running across his backyard. “My dog had puppies!”

Jon, 11, is wearing jeans, a black T-shirt, and a pair of goofy glasses with plastic eyeballs dangling on metal springs. Dover, 63, compliments him on the glasses and they head to Jon’s “man cave,” a camper parked behind the trailer Jon shares with his father, Arnold Gover.

They catch up over a root beer and then wander around the hilly property, pointing things out to each other — budding lilac trees, a turkey feather, spring peepers. Jon drags an old stationary bike from behind a shed. He sets it upright, takes a seat and starts pedaling.

“Let’s exercise,” he says jauntily, and Dover takes his cue.

“Yeah, it’s about time you got some exercise,” he says, and they both crack up.

With Jon’s father’s permission, the two were matched up 15 months ago through Partners Always Lend Support, a Windsor County Partners program that connects children ages 8-18 with mentors. Since then, they’ve created some traditions — sharing sodas after school and reading aloud from a book, recently Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. They’ve gone swimming, visited museums and built a birdhouse together. They laugh a lot. But their relationship wasn’t always so relaxed. When they first met, Jon was having trouble at school and getting into fights. “I used to have really bad anger issues and would not stop flipping out” and swearing, Jon said. And he tested Dover to see what he could get away with. That made for some sleepless nights for his mentor, who has no children.

“Was I doing the right thing? Was it going to work?” Dover said. “I was worried maybe I was letting him get away with too much, knowing that he was dealing with a number of problems that I didn’t really have control over.”

But after time, they settled in.

“Now, I’m not afraid to tell him that’s enough or that behavior isn’t going to do, which is great,” Dover said.

“My attitude has changed a lot,” Jon said.

Now, the biggest challenge is planning activities, Dover said. “I want it to be quality time.” They both like the outdoors, and Jon loves to fish, which has led to road trips to various fishing holes. When it comes to that sport, the boy is teaching the man.

“First, he needs to learn how to cast,” Jon said, giggling. In previous attempts, the hook had either gotten “stuck on one of us or caught in a tree.”

“I’m the go-fer,” Dover said, laughing. “I’m the guy that holds his tackle box or provides the root beer.”

Dover, a piano technician, has always felt mentoring “is an important part of being an elder.” He was a professional mentor to a younger man in the same field and joined Windsor County Partners after retiring from Dartmouth College. Working with Jon has been very rewarding, he said. “We’ve definitely bonded.”

And Jon likes having a mentor.

“There’s more stuff to do,” he said. “It’s good to have a friend to talk to and enjoy something.”

Earlier this spring, Jon checked in about the future. “So, do we get to do this until you die?” he’d asked.

“I have no intention of doing that any time soon,” Dover assured him.

Before Dover left, Jon invited him inside to see Bella, a Lab-boxer mix, and her puppies. The brown, short-haired dog wagged her tail as they approached. Around her, 10 tiny puppies squeaked and squealed, rolling over one another. There had been 11, but one died, and Jon buried it.

Jon, who planned to keep one of the puppies, opened the kennel and gently picked one up. He held the squirmy brown newborn out to Dover.

“Feel their ears. They are like little pieces of ham,” Jon said. “I just can’t wait until they get big enough that I can play with them.”

Editor’s note: Windsor County Partners has a list of students waiting for mentors. For more information, call 802-674-5101 or email info@wcpartners.org.