By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – On June 1, the Big Sky Young Professionals launched a mentorship program that paired community members in developmental stages of their careers with experienced professionals in a related field.

Since Margo Magnant, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce’s membership director, founded the BSYP group in December 2016, membership has grown from 34 to 57. Of that number, 33 members signed up for the mentorship program and were paired with 28 mentors.

Most mentors are members of the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club or Moonlight Basin who wanted to give back by sharing their expertise and fostering the success of burgeoning professionals in the community.

Magnant and her team of coordinators, which included YC members David Given and Whitney Peyton, and leadership coach Lori Addicks, took the matching process very seriously, collecting in-depth personal and professional data from both mentors and mentees to make the most appropriate matches possible, and providing a handbook to facilitate the mentoring process.

A particularly successful pairing was between Johanne Bouchard and Amelia Smith. Bouchard, an independent governance and leadership advisor for high profile CEOs, boards and executive teams, also has extensive experience in the tech world and digital marketing, the arena in which Smith is launching a freelance career.

“The great thing about Johanne is she’s definitely done this before,” Smith said. “I found it really helpful that she takes in the whole picture, including work and personal life balance. She’s almost more of a life coach.”

Smith, who was pregnant and had left a marketing position at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, found Bouchard’s guidance during this transitional time in her life and career indispensable.

“I wanted to know where she was in her life,” Bouchard said. “One of the first things I like to do with a mentee is to establish a place of trust, where we can tell each other anything. That way we are strategic about our approach.”

Bouchard has had to overcome her own obstacles throughout her life and career on the way to success, and mentoring has been a satisfying means of giving back.

“Personally, I love to empower and inspire others, and see them realize their dreams,” she said. “I hope I can open doors for them, and help remove challenges or obstacles that may be self-imposed.”

Magnant said not every match was successful as the two discussed here, but she is looking at this round as a pilot program that will only get stronger when the next set of matches is made in February 2018.

But the responses to a survey sent to mentors and mentees in October, toward the conclusion of the three- or six-month arrangements, suggest that for a test-run the program was a success, with approximately 85 percent of participants reporting positive results.

“By and large the feedback has been pretty phenomenal,” Magnant said. “Most mentors and mentees have said there’s been great success and takeaways from the matches. We were very pleased with the survey results,” Magnant said.

Ciara Wolfe is an anomaly in the mentor pool in that she is not a club member and by age is a young professional herself. She received a special invitation to participate because, as the executive director of the Big Sky Community Organization, Wolfe has a skill set that dovetailed seamlessly with the interests of Mackenzie Johnson.

Johnson, who is currently the activities director at Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, wanted to learn more about the nonprofit sector and specifically those organizations involved in community planning, development and programming. Johnson joked that her dream job is to be Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler’s character on the TV show “Parks and Recreation.”

“I have had mentors throughout different phases in my career that have been instrumental in my professional development,” said Wolfe. “I was more than happy to act as a mentor for someone else.”

“There have been a lot of great takeaways,” Johnson said. “We have very free flowing conversations and Ciara has provided really helpful tools and tips, and book recommendations.” Johnson reiterated Smith’s appreciation for guidance on achieving professional and personal life balance.

It’s not only the mentees that reap the benefits of the partnerships. Wolfe said that working with Johnson has prompted deeper reflection on her own professional path.

“I learn just as much from her asking me questions, talking through things, and by considering what has been helpful to me along the way,” said Wolfe, adding that Johnson’s perspective gives her insight into another Big Sky demographic that she can bring to her work at the BSCO.

The Big Sky Young Professionals will celebrate their one year anniversary at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6 in a public event at Lone Peak Brewery. For more information, visit facebook.com/groups/bigskyyp.