35 Years of a Life-Changing Mentoring Partnership

My name is Tonya Allen and this is the story about my match with Partners 35 years ago today and how it has changed my life.


My family moved to Loveland, CO from Valley Springs, SD in January 1985. I was in the 3rd grade at school. I was the 4th daughter out of 6 girls all living at home. My father had a drinking, gambling and womanizing problem. While my mother worked multiple jobs to support the family. I was abused as a child, mentally and physically. My father would get drunk and upset and take it out on us girls. As a result of my home life, I started acting out. I was very depressed and to be honest, suicidal. I didn’t want to live my life anymore. My home life was awful. A social worker suggested to my parents that I be enrolled in the big sister, big brother program called Partners.

This is where history was made. We received a phone call that I was matched with someone. The day I met my Senior Partner Sandy Gleich was on May 10, 1987, which happened to be my 12th Birthday. Sandy came to my birthday party to meet me. I remember thinking wow she’s so pretty! We unfortunately didn’t get to spend much time together because I was just a kid and running around playing with my friends. Sandy stayed for the entire party and got to know my parents and siblings between my stopping by to talk to her.


Sandy became the lifeline that I grabbed onto and wouldn’t let go of. She would come and get me once a week and we would do all sorts of activities. Activities could be anything from just getting TCBY (not even sure if they’re still around but they had the best frozen yogurt and gummy bears! lol), or sometimes we’d just go to the park and swing or talk or feed the geese. We attended a lot of the activities Partners put on. We did a weekend at Calwood which was a trust building camp. We stayed in cabins and did KP duty in the kitchen, zip lining and many other fun activities to help you build trust with your Partner as well as the group you were in. We also did bumper boats up in Estes and multiple Fundraising events with Partners. Sometimes we would just go to her house and do crafts. Sometimes we would have a sleepover, go camping, or hiking. I was always happiest when I was with Sandy. Her husband Don became just as important to me as she was. They were always my outlet, my confidants, and sounding board for reasoning. They helped me learn how to calm down and look at a situation from a different view than the angry frame of mind I was always in.

Sandy won Senior Partner of the year twice and deservedly so. I was so incredibly proud that MY Senior Partner was chosen as the best, not once but twice. I realize now more than ever just how blessed I was when this woman entered my life.

When I was 15, I ended up getting into a pretty bad fight with my sibling one night while doing dishes. My dad decided it was best that I learned how good I had it at home and had me arrested. Sandy and her husband Don had been driving all day back from visiting family in Ohio but immediately after they heard of my situation, they got back in the car and went to the Loveland PD and took custody of me. This is where our story changes a bit and it’s my favorite part.


My biological father wanted me to go into a foster home so I could see “how good I had it home.” Sandy and Don went through foster parenting classes and got certified just for ME to be able to stay in their home. This is when they truly changed my life. I remember my father wouldn’t let me have any of my clothing because he was mad I was staying with Sandy and Don instead of going to a foster home with strangers. Don told Sandy to take me shopping. I honestly didn’t know what to do. All of my clothing had been hand-me-downs from my older sisters. She took me to the mall! The mall! I have only ever walked through the mall and admired things. I knew my parents could never afford to buy me clothes from there. She bought me the clothing I needed and I was able to pick out what I wanted. They did this with their own money. They did this with their own hearts. I cried that night. I knew I was safe and in a good home with people that would love and care for me. For the first time in my life, I could make my own choices. I had my own bedroom! I was truly blessed and I wasn’t with strangers.

Sandy and Don taught me so much while I was with them. My grades improved and I was actually on the honor roll. I remember the Take Your Kids to Work Day. I went to work with Don. He was an executive with a big corporation. His receptionist Toni spoiled me rotten the whole day I was there! It was great! And Sandy? Sandy went to school with me one day! She carried my books and took all my notes in my classes. It was so awesome! I’ll never forget that.


I regrettably ended up leaving my safe haven with Sandy and Don. Even though I know they worried about me, they were supportive and encouraging and never judgmental. I’ve fallen down 100 times and have gotten back up 101 times. They’ve always been there to provide the hands to help pull me up or just to brush me off after I’m back on my feet.

Over the years, and it has been 35, Sandy and Don have always been a part of my life. In fact, 5 years ago when my husband and I got married, we went to Florida and got married on the beach. Don and Sandy walked me down the aisle. It was the most perfect and precious day of my life. Today–May 10th –marks the 35th anniversary since these wonderful people came into my life. They have helped mold me into the woman, wife, and mother I am today.

 I’m extremely grateful Sandy and Don are still in my life after all these years. They both have always been there to support me and never judge. I know I can talk to either one of them about anything. They are my Momma and Daddy and I call them such. My daughter calls them Memaw and Papa. Sandy and I both have said…. God brought us together when we needed each other the most. I needed a mother and she needed a daughter. We are truly blessed. Our story is truly unique and special. Most kids in the Partners program don’t need a new home from their mentors, so most partnerships don’t last this long or end up as a true family like ours did.


To Partners and Kathy Gibbs, I would like to say thank you for changing this kid’s life. Your program is truly amazing and my match is a success story that proves it.

To prospective volunteers, volunteering a few hours a month to the youth in your community is sometimes difficult but the rewards far exceed the challenges. If you have a couple hours a week to devote to a child, please do so! You could be the one person in that child’s life that turns it around and makes a difference for them. The only things you need are patience and time.

To Sandy and Don Gleich, thank you for making such a difference in THIS kid’s life. All your unwavering love and support cannot be measured. A simple thank you just isn’t enough. I love you more!

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