We are focused on middle school boys
They are in a transitional period in their life. They are looking for their identity and where they fit in their community both at school and beyond. They are asked to start advocating for themselves and take responsibility for their choices and actions. They rely less upon their parents and teachers. They are becoming more aware of their sexuality and their relationship with the opposite sex. They are exposed to social pressures and demands that are many times beyond what they are accustomed to. They are looking for answers that if not addressed by positive influences they will find those answers from unreliable sources. They are learning social skills by on the job training often without any guidence. In many cases boys don’t have a place to take their issues and fears that will not judge , ostracize, demean or criticize. We provide them a safe and confidential space. They can see for themselves that they are not the only ones going through this transition in life. They will witness others their age and others much older than them who also have experienced the same things. In the space we provide the mentor and the mentee can be completely truthful and through our collective truth we build trust. ]
We provide group mentoring
Our approach is bringing together boys and men of all ages and generations to share with one another their life experiences. We mentor through personal experience and we listen to one another with acceptance and respect. Our fundamental credo is defined by the acronym R>E>A>L. Respect, Engage, Acknowledge and Listen. Our mentors are encouraged to offer their insights and advice by way of experiential mentoring. That is sharing one’s personal experience to relate to or inspire or direct the mentee. Because we are in agreement regarding confidentiality and respect for each other we develop a bond of trust that encourages all boys and men to support and honor each other. This form of mentoring and setting encourages development of social skills and self esteem for boys that may find it difficult to fit in.
We work with the school counselors and therapists
In the event a young man needs more individual attention we will encourage the mentee to seek additional guidance from his school counselors or in some cases outside counseling. Our staff are experienced and trained as counselors, behavioral psychologist and psychiatrists and can direct and recommend resources both inside and outside the school.
Also we work with the school counselors and administration to identify the boys that are candidates for our mentor program.
Our mentors go through an initial 4 hour mentor training course. Based on our mentoring standards and methods we assure a consistency across our program. Our mentors include young men who have graduated from high school and have an interest in mentoring to men from the community that are looking for a way to give back. In addition we have counselors, coaches and teachers from the participating schools that are an important part of our mentor program. Men from the community join us, too.
We deal with real life issues that the boys and mentors bring up at our meetings and encourage the boys to explore their thoughts and feelings regarding topics such as
By exploring these and other topics we open up the group to sharing their personal experiences in relationship to a particular topic. Through real life experiences the value of the discussion is imprinted on the participants. It becomes meaningful and cuts through the noise of advice or opinion. We encourage both mentor and mentee to share by opening their hearts and minds. In this space we become connected and trust one another. These are the fundamental concepts of our program.
Our meetings are comprised of three essential elements. Fun, Food and sharing. Playing together is critical in building trust. When boys wittness men engaging in play they are more likely to engage and connect with that man. It is said that a man unwilling to play cannot be trusted. We all have a little boy in each of us that wants to engage in play. If we men are willing to let that boy play, then mentees feel safe around that man. Boys are more likely to open up and expose their feelings and emotions when they feel safe and connected.
Sharing a meal is the oldest form of socializing in the world. Food helps to relax us and is something shared. Food helps us to connect and take off our armor and lower our defences. Food engages all our senses and helps to bring us present.
The sharing is set up through agreement between all the participants. We agree to hold confidentiality. That what is said and who said it is held confidential. This is key to our R.E.A.L principles. We agree to listen to each other and hold the space for the one speaking as sacred or of high importance. We connect with each other by telling the truth about what is happening in our lives and how we truly feel about life situations, circumstances or relationships. Through this sharing we find the common ground between us and many times the answers to our own challenges. We realize we are not alone in our thoughts and emotions. When both mentor and mentee are willing to engage in opening heart and mind the experience is deeply connective and meaningful.
Here’s is how Mentors present the REAL curriculum to the boys
Here’s where I see the R in real is for responsibility–mentors taking responsibility to lead, this is that “stepping up” I was referring to yesterday. It takes courage to do this in a world that holds this as weakness—-When mentors are willing to set the example of speaking from their experiences it gives the boys permission to do the same. When the mentors are only there to observe the boys tend to follow their lead and restrict the sense of openness. It doesn’t feel safe to expose the whole truth. It requires courage to reveal a man’s or a boy’s pain and when we do we deepen the meaning of connection. When we do we heal. These boys deserve the experience of meaningful connection and healing. Where else in their lives is this available to them?
We are raising the next generation of fathers
It has been said there is no manual to parenting. As a father I have done my share of reading, sat through lectures and observed other fathers in search for the answers to raising my son and daughter. But most of all I learned to trust my upbringing and my better judgement when it came to fathering. I consider myself fortunate that I had a wonderful example in my father. He always seemed to respond to most situations in an even and understanding manner. He set the example for both me and my brother how to deal with life challenges as a man and how to guide and father his children. Through his example I had the foundation as his son and now as a father to build upon.
Through the years I had other men of influence that I learned from by watching what they did and how they would respond or react to life’s challenges. These men advanced my understanding of how I wanted to define myself as a man, not always through the best of examples but through being themselves. I was able to witness a man’s strengths and weaknesses and determine if I would walk the path they chose or if I would choose my own path. I think this is the way most of us develop along life’s journey. The men that influence our lives as boys and young men are critical to our view of the world and of ourselves. As I observed others, the one thing that was up to me was how I interpreted the behaviors and actions of men around me. My interpretation informed my choices. Rarely would I discuss intimate thoughts or closely held fears. You see the one thing I didn’t have access to was a place I could go where I felt safe to discuss my inner thoughts, concerns and fears. The questions, the confusion, the feelings and emotions I felt as a young man. It didn’t feel safe to expose those thoughts and feelings out into the world. It didn’t feel safe to discuss them with my own father! So I withheld those thoughts and feelings. I hid them well so it appeared to the outside world everything was fine. As time went by I struggled to understand why I felt so alone and isolated. Surely I must by very different than other men. Surely there must be something wrong with me. My father seems so strong and together, he doesn’t have thoughts of insecurity and fear. He was the model of a man that has it all together. I am not like my dad. I wish I was but I’m not.
As a young man I would take measure of my peers and of the men in my life and determine if I measured up. If I could be as much of a man as they were. What did I have to do to be accepted? What did I have to do to stand out? What did I have to do to impress? I didn’t necessarily know the answers but what I thought I knew for sure was I had to be more than I was. Just being me wasn’t good enough. So I would behave in a way that made me stand out. Which many times was acting like an idiot. I would do inappropriate things for attention or to impress my peers. These behaviors were derived from my own insecurity. My insecurity came from my pent up fears.
I have learned that many boys go through some version of this story. I have learned that young men are also trying to figure out where they fit in their own communities and even their own families. I believe boys starting in their middle school years are struggling to fit in, struggling to be accepted and be noticed. Some achieve this easier than others. Some are the ones everyone else is striving to be like. All are in need of a safe place to open up their thoughts and emotions and know they are not alone. That is what we provide boys and young men with our mentor programs. We prepare boys for their teenage years by teaching them the tools that will build a strong sense of self and a tolerance and acceptance for others. We help boys discover their identity and their greatness so they can build upon that foundation. We help boys grow into men that will father and mentor future generations. We teach the principle of R.E.A.L. Respect (Responsibility), Engage, Acknowledge and Listen. We create a safe space based on confidentiality and trust so all boys and mentors feel safe to open up and talk about their lives. We train our mentors to share their knowledge and wisdom through personal experience giving our boys the opportunity to learn through shared experience. Our mentors lead by example not by advice or lecture. Our mentor program encourages boys to develop mentoring skills so they can give back to the others that come after them. Even once they graduate high school they many times continue the mentor program as a way to give back. This sacred space, this trust and confidentiality is not common place in the world. Once a young man experiences it and he trusts it he values it, he comes back for more.. When young men have an outlet a safe haven to express their fear, their anger, their sadness and anxiety it opens up space for healing and wholeness. It gives a young man the opportunity to clean the slate so he can move forward to face his next challenge.