Devin Jensen and his mentor through the YMCA, Francesco Tortorici, hold a demonstration on stoves at Blue Heron Middle School. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Devin Jensen and his mentor through the YMCA, Francesco Tortorici, hold a demonstration on stoves at Blue Heron Middle School. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

YMCA mentors, students connect in Building Futures Program

PORT TOWNSEND — Devin Jensen found a friend in Francesco Tortorici thanks to the Olympic Peninsula YMCA’s mentorship program at the Jefferson County Y.

“I was kind of looking for a friend,” said Devin, 13, who learned of the YMCA program through his teachers at Blue Heron Middle School.

“I had a few other mentors, but when I met Francesco, we really clicked.”

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, declared to be in January by the White House in December, the YMCA’s Building Futures Program is thanking its mentors who have reached out and touched the lives of young people in the community.

Throughout the month, Dana Nixon, Building Futures Program coordinator, will renew match contracts, she said, adding that students have been encouraged to thank their mentors and coordinate an event together.

With Tortorici’s support and expertise, Devin put together a three-part program in which students learn to build a small emergency camp stove using such household items as empty aluminum cans.

The two shared their project with Devin’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) class at Blue Heron.

After building the stoves, the students in Devin’s class tested them by boiling water to make hot chocolate during their Friday class period.

Tortorici had learned how to build these stoves thanks to Engineers in Technical and Humanitarian Opportunities of Service, or ETHOS, which developed the stoves as a clean heat and cooking source for third world nations.

He and Devin built one together earlier this year.

“He noticed we’d done a lot of math building the stove,” Tortorici said. “He asked, ‘How come this is so much fun and school isn’t?’ ”

With Tortorici’s support, Devin approached his teachers and Matt Holshouser, Blue Heron’s principal, to ask to incorporate the stoves into a class.

“This program is all about mentorship then translating that into academics,” Holshouser said. “Francesco really does that.”

Jensen is Tortorici’s first and only mentorship match since he started the program two years ago.

“I’m at that stage in my life where I should do some service,” Tortorici said. “Honestly this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.”

Jensen and Tortorici are one of 26 matches through the Jefferson County YMCA. The program accepts students from first grade through the eighth grade from Port Townsend, Chimacum and Quilcene school districts.

“The whole program is about having an adult in the community who is knowledgeable and positive, who knows what this kid will do because one adult reached out,” Holshouser said.

For more information, or to get involved in the program, see or call Nixon at 360-385-5811.


Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].

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