Wednesday, December 23, 2009


“You can’t go down yet” my sister told me. “But why?” I asked. “ Because Santa is not done putting the gifts under the tree” my brother explained. So we sat at the top of the staircase, with bated breath waiting for our parents to tell us we could come down. Once given permission, we zipped down the stairs, and there in the corner of the living room was most magnificent tree I had ever seen, with a mountain of presents underneath it. My father sat in his chair, dressed in his pin stripped pajamas and bathrobe, smoking a cigarette with a black cigarette holder, and drinking his “tinto” (Colombia’s version of espresso). He took a drag, held it, took a sip and then let the smoke trickle out of his nose. He was magnificent. Hugh Hefner didn’t hold a candle to him. My exquisitely beautiful mom sat next to him also smoking, and smiling. The cookies and milk we had laid out the night before were gone, sure sign that Santa had enjoyed them. We tore through the gifts intoxicated with the abundance. We couldn’t tear the paper fast enough so we could get to the next one. When it was my father’s turn to open his gifts, he did it as elegantly as he did everything else. Meticulously he would gently peel the tape off, making sure he did not damage the paper, and very slowly, unwrap his present. Usually a handmade gift involving macaroni and paper-mache one of his adoring children had created in school. My mother, on the other hand ripped right into hers, discovering a misshapen clay artifact representing an ashtray.

Our next task was to figure out how we were going to manage to wear our new clothes while riding the new bikes, drinking our favorite hot chocolate, and playing with the brand new toys all at the same time. Life was good. And those are the memories I want to hold on to forever.

Today, the holidays may not have the same sparkle or sense of magic, but they are what we choose to make them. And I am choosing to make new memories filled with happiness and love. Cooking unbelievably yummy food, grunting and breathing my way through power yoga, playing scrabble, laughing… and to be with the ones I love, like my bff, her beautiful mamou, my mentee and her mentee’s family, out of town friends, and of course my family.

So my friends – choose to have a joyous holiday season, because that is what I wish for you.

Amor y Paz.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee: Bob and Davon

"Bob, I want to thank you for being the mentor you have been to me. You have taught me a lot about life and showing me the right things to do." - Davon

YMC Holiday Party

Adams I - Holiday Celebration

Children's Hospital Los Angeles - Holiday Celebration

HBO Holiday Celebration

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tony’s Blog: “Not a damn thing”

There was laughter, gamesmanship, strategy and haggling. “Number 32, 33 on deck!” I called out and the young lady promptly went over to “steal” the adult diapers, clearly the most unwanted gift in the game, then number 33 steals them from her, but later she has the opportunity to steal them back and the game ends with our young 15 year old girl holding the most undesirable holiday gift ever. The game is called “White Elephant Gift Exchange” and when your number is chosen you can steal any gift that someone before you got, or take your chance on a wrapped gift. Why do we do this? Mostly because it’s fun, but I try to make it a learning opportunity. Learn to deal with disappointment when that coveted gift is stolen. Learn to keep material possessions in perspective. “Talk to your mentor.” Learn that everything that happens, good or bad, is an opportunity for ones advancement and not to regret our misfortunes because they are there to teach us.

But every time I learn more than they do. I learn how clever and strategic these young folks can be, how quick thinking they are as they strategize with friends how to steal a gift from one so that he is freed up to steal what he really wants from another. They are playing chess in real life. I learn to be a little better at managing and containing so much energy. I also learn that to some of these young people the laptop or mp3 players sprinkled in with the joke gifts are their only chances this year at the kind of gift that they dream of. I am reminded of just how materialistic we train our citizens to be. This sets me off on reflection about what we have become as a society, and the values that an over-commercialized consumer culture teaches its kids. I remember reading that Oprah chose as one of her most ambitious projects to open a school in South Africa partially because when asked what they most wanted, the kids there said books and school uniforms, whereas American children talk about the latest fashion trends, ipods and sneakers. Look what we have created folks. Those of us who dream of a society with higher values know that we have a long way to go. My hope in getting there rests in the faces that I see in the crowd of mentors and mentees. They come together on this night to celebrate the instant community that we created. California is the richest state in the union but ranks 46th in self-reporting of happiness. Yet, here I see a lot of happiness: mentors laughing at the spectacle and youth in an environment where they can let their shoulders down and just be kids for awhile.

So, back to the game. I also learn how good their memories are. The reason that Jasmin wanted to end up with the adult diapers and Darryl looked to steal the Mickey Mouse stickers is because they remember that the preceding year I made up a last minute rule that the person who got ‘screwed’ the worst could choose any gift in the house to steal in exchange. I’m still not sure if it was a clever life lesson to them or just a cruel hoax that I did not invoke that rule this year and they got stuck with the lousy gifts.

Mostly what I am left with are these memories:

• Dozens of cards signed with personal messages from youth and mentors for one of our young men who languishes in prison. We’ll send one each day to help him pass the lonely time.

• The giant card with “get well messages” that will be delivered to a young lady’s hospital room where she will spend the holidays due to severe complications associated with her sickle cell anemia.

• The beautiful reverence as all 100+ people in the hall reflect on our good fortune to be together and speak the names of those less fortunate of our community who cannot be with us tonight.

• And finally this: An exercise at our worksite mentoring program at HBO instructs mentors and mentees to reflect back on the year just past and ask“what would you change if you could do the year over again?” The mentor reports with pride that she and her mentee (who had been through some trying times that year), without collaborating both ended up writing the exact same answer:

Not a damn thing

With love, laughter, peace and blessings,


Happy Holidays. May your dreams take flight in 2010

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday's Follow-Up

"The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone." George Elliot

Tony's Blog: So you think you're tough-check this out
Tony writes about an amazing story of a young mentee and her mentor. Through the courage on both sides, an emotional miracle happens in the personal growth of the mentee. Tony urges us all to support Youth Mentoring Connection and the miracles that can happen by becoming a mentor.

Tuesday with Mentor & Mentee-Loreta & Dulcinea
Dulcinea thanks her mentor for the great time--and that you can have a good time with an older person.

It will be Christmas soon...and it is Hanukkah now, how about giving the gift of being a mentor, or donating to YMC? Just a thought.......
La Judy

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Loreta & Dulcinea

"I would like to thank my mentor for having a great crazy time with me. My mentor let me know she cared by coming to the one-on-ones and group meetings. She would be late but she would be here. She also showed me she cared by giving me advice when I told her my situation. From this experince I learned to listen to people and also that you could have a good time with older people".


Monday, December 14, 2009

Tony’s Blog: So you think you’re tough – check this out


Grandma and older sister pull up to the park and go straight to her usual spot. Alexus screams as they pull her from mother’s arms. Her pants are held up by a string and the new shoes that grandma bought have been replaced by old worn ones. Mom sold the new ones to pay for crack cocaine. The two year old continues to scream while they drive her home, bathe and try to feed her. The screaming only stops when they drop her back off at the park and momma takes her under the bleachers that they call home.

Eventually mom will end up in subsidized housing and Alexus will find her way to a YMC mentoring program. She’s a tough kid wearing an invisible protective shield to keep everyone out. She shows all the signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD-a psychological disorder associated with returning war vets that has now been identified in the majority of youth growing up in South Central LA): emotionally numb; has a hard time concentrating; easily angered; trusts nobody; seems disinterested in developing a sense of values or caring; and other signs of insecurity. When she is not in a bad mood she can have fun with her mentor but refuses to discuss anything substantive. Yet, she continues to show up to every session and her wonderful mentor hangs in there. It’s like she’s waiting for something to happen to allow her to believe that things can be different…and so it does:

After years of drug and alcohol abuse her mother’s body gives out and at 15 years old Alexus must deal with the death of her mother. She risks telling her mentor and it turns out that the mentor also lost her mother at 15...a shared wound. In that shared experience an opening occurs - maybe someone could finally understand something about what she was feeling inside. The opening her mentor had been waiting for came in the most unexpected of coincidences. It was the opening that Alexus had been looking for all her life. She just didn’t know it. They planned the funeral together, and then began to plan Alexus’ transformation together. The change was so profound that this once disconnected and apathetic young lady was now doing well enough to consider going to college in Atlanta. Her mentor offered to take her. While she ended up opting to study cosmetology instead, and wants to open her own beauty salon, there is no doubt that her mentor's love and patience allowed this young lady to believe that she could dream of a better life.

This is not a typical mentee in our programs, because there are no typical mentees. Not all of them suffer from PTSD. Not all of them are that resistant to their mentors. Mentors don’t usually fly across country to visit colleges with their mentee. What is typical is the amazing resilience in our young people and the compassion of our mentors. I have also learned to expect this kind of magic in our programs and have come to recognize that much more is going on when a mentor and mentee choose each other. Whether you look at it as 'divinely guided', 'serendipity', ‘subconsciously directed coincidence’ or ‘mere coincidence’ it happens all too often to ignore. In our mentor trainings we tell the mentor that you end up with the kid that will inspire the lesson or experience that you need for this time in your life. (See Sarah’s December 9 post Volunteering in Uncertain Times)

Anything is possible in this city of angels, but more kids need more angels. Tell your friends about Youth Mentoring Connection and the miracles that they can inspire by becoming a mentor. Click here to learn more about mentoring with YMC

Peace and blessings,


Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday's Follow-Up

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. Marin Luther King, Jr.

Tony's Blog: Afghanistan? Gang Payback, Gang Sweeps

Tony shares a beautiful quote by Hafiz that expresses that the only people we hurt with our anger is ourselves.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Rissa & Gerica
Gerica shares how it's been a cool year with Rissa, even with all their life difficulties.
And even though Gerica will be going to San Jose State next year, she will still stay in touch with Rissa.

Volunteering in Uncertain Times
Sarah expresses how committed the YMC staff is to the mentees and the mentors. She makes the case of how volunteering gives back more to those who volunteer: "Give of your time and you will get more than you bargained for."

All of the blogs are such good advice! Stay dry and have a great weekend.
La Judy

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Volunteering in Uncertain Times

A friend called me yesterday who, since she’s been unemployed, has started volunteering at a women’s homeless shelter. She called me because every time she leaves her volunteer assignment, she feels bad and doesn’t know why. We talked about it for a little while.

“Is it because you feel like there are really big problems there that you can’t do much about?” I guessed. That's a feeling most of us can relate to these days, and it seemed worth a shot.

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe that’s it.” But actually, what was going on for my friend was closer to home than that.

It turns out that the most challenging thing for my friend about her volunteer assignment was learning to interact with unfamiliar people. This was a big issue for her in her life, and the volunteer assignment she chose was pushing all the right buttons to help her grow.

Even if things are uncertain in your own life, when you put yourself out there for others, you always get back what you need. As in my friend’s case, you often get things you didn’t even know you needed. This is counter-intuitive: volunteer inquiries were down for us about 60% in 2009 from last year, due to economic uncertainty. In hard times, people turn inwards - we don't know what's going to happen, we don't want to commit to anything new.

But this is exactly the time to reach out instead. Regardless of why they volunteer, what people get back is entirely more than they expect. I know a mentor who found a sense of community in a new city. I know a mentor whose mentee who reminds him of a younger brother who’d long since passed away. I know several mentors who found a pathway into new careers in service. I know a mentor whose mentee was her reason to stay present when her clinical depression threatened to come back. Or sometimes, like my friend, mentors simply get an opportunity to learn and grow. We learn patience, how to be a better listener, how to show up, how to let go. We teach our mentees new skills for their young lives, and in teaching, we learn new skills too.

One of the things I love best about Youth Mentoring Connection is that we really, really get this. We are absolutely dedicated to our youth, but we are also dedicated to helping mentors to grow in their capacity to give back. When people mentor with us, they get training, support, a program structure that works, and best of all, our staff’s cell phone numbers. Day or night, we got our mentors’ backs when they’re on this journey with our kids.

So, in this scary economy, why should you consider mentoring? Because you’ll love it, because it will change you, and because it is absolutely the best deal out there. Give of your time and you will get more than you bargained for. Learn more about volunteering with us.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Rissa & Gerica

"Hey Rissa, Thanks for being 100% with me. I really appreciate the time and effort you put in our relationship. It's been cool this year, you had your share of problems and I had my share of difficulties but we are still here! I am going to San Jose next year but we will still stay in touch."
- Gerica

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tony's Blog: Afghanistan? Gang Payback, Gang Sweeps...

" I have come into this world to see this:

       the sword drop from man's hands

                         even at the top of their arc of

                              anger because we have finally

                                   realized there is just

                                one flesh we can wound."


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tony’s Blog: I found myself plummeting towards the earth…didn’t hear the instruction to pull the cord

How surely gravity’s law
strong as an ocean current
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing—
each stone, blossom, child—
is held in place
Only we, in our arrogance
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things
because they are in God’s heart
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us
to fall patiently
to trust our heaviness

Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Thus I found myself plummeting towards the earth from 12,000 feet in the air…terra firma rushing up to meet me at 120mph. I don’t know why it affected me so much. I only know that in that moment I felt totally alive. They call it “free falling” and I have never felt so free. But falling? That was not the sensation. I was flying! Free of the usual impediments that keep my holy body from fully experiencing life: No fear, no analysis, no ego, no judgment, no worry about performance, just the sensation of flight that I didn’t want to ever end. Consumed by wonderment and joy, I began to laugh. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t hear the instruction to pull the cord that would deploy the chute. So, the instructor pulled the cord for me a full 1000 feet below the intended level. Then a new sensation: gliding through the sky with an incomparable view of the world, the horizon, no obstructions. I was a part of the sky.

Upon reflection I realized that whatever nervousness and fear I had were felt most profoundly on the plane as it ascended. And isn’t that the case in so much of life. The narrative that we tell ourselves as we try to reach some kind of spiritual heights so often feels heavy and unobtainable. It is when we allow ourselves to dive down into the place of soul that we find the richness that creates awakening.
As Jung put it:
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."
The gravity that incites our skydiving experience is the gravitas that informs our transformational experience. Don’t fall into trouble, dive into it, and in the diving down we reach the heights that we had all along been looking upward to attain. It takes commitment and a certain kind of trust.

When the young people that we work with choose to face their wounds the healing begins in that choice – free fall becomes flight. The biggest surprise of the entire skydiving experience for me was when I was kneeling in the doorway looking out and down just before the jump. I had expected that to be the most anxious moment, but I was surprisingly calm. I discovered peace amidst the chaos and noise of the plane. Peace that comes from defeating indecision. There was no deciding to do. The covenant with myself had been confirmed. With a slight movement we tumbled out of the airplane and down…toward a higher understanding of life.

Tony LoRe

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday's Follow Up

I am not young enough to know everything. Oscar Wilde

Tony's Blog: I found myself plummeting
Tony describes the liberating feeling of skydiving and how it relates to inner growth.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Lauren & Gaby
Gaby shares how Lauren has helped her to be open to new things.

They Drank The Good Kool Aid
Juliana shares about how much emotional nourishment she receives from our dedicated mentors.

The promise of healthy food in Los Angeles
Teens from South Los Angeles partner in a great program, Health Eating Active Communities,
to encourage teens to eat healthy.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and now it's on to the holiday season!
La Judy

The promise of healthy food in Los Angeles

In a city where liquor stores out number places where one can find good fresh fruit and vegetables, it is great to know that there is a conscious effort being made to provide the community with healthier alternatives. Not only are teens from South Los Angeles partnering with Health Eating Active Communities to encourage youth to eat healthy snacks as alternatives to what they typically consume but there is also an effort being made to have local corner stores convert to selling more fresh fruits and vegetables. Although it is a hard task, the benefits that the community will receive are definitely the incentive. It seems that more and more people are beginning to see how crucial it is to make an effort in trying to provide the community with healthier options. The youth is society’s most useful resource because they bring energy and hope to our constant struggles, therefore, educating them and really bringing a sense of consciousness to them is vital for the needs of our communities to be met. Too often they are undervalued and ignored but what they have to offer can really change course of our struggles.