20 Under 40: Ben Polonowski serves as childhood mentor, a safe space
For many students at Middle Park High School Ben Polonowski is both a mentor and a safe place to confide their thoughts and feelings.
For the last five years Polonowski has served as a high school counselor in Granby, helping the youth of Middle Park reach for their dreams.
“As a counselor at Middle Park High School he is unbelievably committed to guiding the youth of Grand County on their journeys to becoming successful and confident members of society,” stated the individual who nominated Polonowski for this list. “He treats every student like an individual and truly cares about the stories that make them unique and special people. His philosophy of building people up and listening to the issues that are important to them has proven effective in the successes of his students.”
Name: Ben Polonowski
Profession: Professional school counselor.
Education: University of Colorado. M.A. in Counseling and Human Services.
Place of Employment: Middle Park High School.
What problem would you like to solve?
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To reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
Where doyou see yourself in 10 years?
Continuing to grow and develop as an educator, as well as establish a small mental health practice that serves the community.
Who’s your hero and why?
Growing up my hero was and continues to be Harry Houdini. He showed audiences that they too could gather the strength and tools to escape from their self-imposed bondage. I think about this and the role of education and mental health in today’s society and how it allows us to become free. The real heroes in my life have been people that have shared and held space for me: Randy, Rhonda, Brett, Thom, Franke, and many others along the way.
What is it about your generation that sets it apart?
I think there are two really big things that have happened so far with our generation. First, handheld internet connected devices. It has fundamentally transformed how we communicate with one another. The other is that we have lived through the great recession and seen the effects of it on our families and communities.
Why did you choose Grand County?
My wife Jaime and I have always been happiest living in rural areas, especially in Colorado. When the opportunity arose to begin working at MPHS I immediately jumped at the opportunity. We did not have any expectations, but that was five years, and one baby later.
How do you like to play in Grand County?
I am definitely a skier to the core. Since moving to the county I have developed an appreciation for mountain biking. I am also looking forward to exploring through the lens of our new daughter.
What kind of future do you see for your industry in Grand County?
For education, I see growth and opportunities. With more families choosing the county, educational opportunities should continue to grow in both districts. For mental health, I am optimistic that we can bring some real change and acceptance of mental health. Community leaders need to step up to the plate and make real leadership choices about the role of mental health in the county on a fiscal and moral level.
If you could change one thing about Grand County, what would it be?
Imagine if we had a community college campus and not only did it serve all learners in the county, it might also have a satellite campus of a university or institute that really focused on rural mountain mental health. We truly have a mental health crisis in this county, state, and country. It’s time that we start addressing it.
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