Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Never can say goodbye...

Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong at our closure session for our Zenith Mentoring Program. We did not have a space reserved, so we snuck into an empty room that we had used before. Great, we are in! Setting up for the slide show… forgot the laptop – crap! No problem, Crystal can email it… too big, no can do… Okay, scrap the slide show. Knock knock… What now? "Um… we have this classroom reserved…" By now, my mantra was "trust the process, trust the process, trust the freakin’ process!!!!!" With mouths full of food we shuffled our way out of the room to the open courtyard where we continued the process – healthy closure – what a concept! In small groups, we talked about our favorite activities: "I liked survivor", a funny moment: "When we went ice-skating, and you fell", something sad: "that my mentor is going away, and wont’ be able to come back next year"…
There is an actual method to our closure madness and we call it CARE. We Clarify – this is our last session. We Acknowledge – mentors and mentees discuss what this experience meant to them. We Reflect – that was supposed to be the slide show – ooops! And finally we Express – my favorite! This is where the Web of Love comes in, bring out the Kleenex!!! Imagine creating a web out of string, linked by truth and the power of connecting with each other. And there is always that moment… when the one you least expect, cracks open, and surprises us with their willingness to expose their vulnerability. For nine months, she looked down, avoiding looking in anyone’s eyes. For nine months she refused to speak, occasionally mumbling monosyllabic responses. For nine months we picked her up from home, because mom would forget to drop her off for session. For nine months we didn’t give up on her. For nine months Sarah gently encouraged her, saw her for who she was, and was there to remind her that it was ok… So with head lowered, hair in her eyes, she carried the string over to Sarah. Her voice heavy with emotion, cracked "I want to thank you for always being there for me. You are the best mentor ever." Her sobs were muffled in Sarah’s shoulder as they hugged. I was a puddle.
Tonight at our Year End Celebration, as I stood in the dark saying goodbye to mentors and mentees, I heard them say to each other "see you next week", "I’ll call you", "we’re coming back next year right?" I grinned. Then I saw her, head down, walking towards me, "move" she said as she shoved a boy out of the way, and then she hugged me. "See you next year" I said. "Nope" she said under her breath. "Whatever" said I… she giggled.
Don’t you want to be a mentor?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Amy & Ana

"I would like to thank my mentor Amy for being there for me, for opening up to me and realizing how our lives are similar. For letting me know I could tell her anything and that I could even count on her. One thing that my mentor did that showed me she cared for me was when she would ask me how was I doing. She would call me or send me a message when she would not be able to make it to the session. One thing that I learned or experienced in this program was not to be shy. There is no reason for that. We have to speak what we feel".

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tony's Blog: When the heart breaks it creates an opening for others to enter...

...then love is possible. I believe that one cannot love deeply until your heart has been broken. Think about: people with hearts that have been broken come together and through those wounds get to know each other in a way that was not possible before.

Today was such an opportunity for me. As I sat and listened to the judge rule that our young parents will lose the rights to parent their own child my heart tore open with ferocity that threatened to drown out the sobs of Hoolie sitting next to me. You could have driven a truck through that break. I realized that I would need to let that wound stay open so our young father would have a soft place for his heart (already hardening from the decision) to land. My spirit yearned to find a peaceful place to take him, but my soul whispered to get down into the depth of the despair with him. The whisper won out despite the risk that I could get lost down there as well. "My life is over." "That b*%$ took my son away." "I should be the one telling him what is the truth of this world." He wanted to give his child the parenting that he never got. This is not the time to lecture about how he brought this on himself. That is a discussion for a less volatile moment.

He threatens to blow the whole thing up, to throw away all the recent progress and dive back into gang life. I watch him "soldier walk" out of court. The dress shirt first to go, revealing an oversized t-shirt and tattoos still claiming the tribe. Pants allowed to sag and hems tucked into socks. The respectful look of court morphs into the fatal gaze of the street. I know that I gotta act fast. Break the spell he is falling under. What can I do? Act the clown. I rip my shirt off in the same bold gesture revealing my undersized t-shirt, sag my dress slacks, tuck my pants into dress socks and walk with a stupid swagger. (But I cannot imitate the fatal gaze. That is cultivated over years of practice). He is either going to drop kick me off the sidewalk for making fun of him or laugh at this absurd spectacle I had become. He laughs. I jump on the moment. "I'm f'n starving" I say. "had to pick you up so early to get here - no time for breakfast." "Let's go get a big f'n greasy burger." (Leslie had discovered burgers to be the only food he never turned down.) The invitation is accepted. I hike my pants back up to their normal place on my hips, un-tuck pant legs from socks, but keep the t-shirt look (not out of some brilliant strategy to maintain the solidarity we found in laughter. It was just damn hot outside.) Finally, on the drive back I resort to the two most powerful weapons in my arsenal: truth and love. "Mijo," I say with tears rolling down my face. "How would you feel if someday this child that you love so much came to you and said "my life is over. I'm turning myself to the streets to die."

"I couldn't take it." He admits.

"Well that's how I feel now, hearing you say that to me. Please don't break my heart any more. It's already broken too much."

We drive in silence until he asks me to divert to his house so he can change clothes in order to join us at program this evening instead of going back to the hood. I don't try to hide the smile on my face.

The emotional earthquake of the morning would repeat in dozens of aftershocks throughout the day as I am privileged to witness the power of love that can only be delivered by people with the courage to let their hearts be broken. My amazing staff, one by one reinforce the same messages: "You gotta learn to love yourself as much as you love that child." "You are worth it." "It doesn't matter that you have done some stupid things, you are a good person." "You have powerful gifts that you were born to share with this world." We take turns reinforcing the nobility we all see in this young semi-reformed gang banger, reminding him of the beauty we have seen him display and the pride we have in his accomplishments. I remind him of how well he spoke in court, melting the judge's heart so that she modified her ruling on the spot in a way that rarely happens. The young biological parents will be allowed to continue to visit their child (if the adoptive parents agree). This gift of persuasion that he normally keeps hidden works a minor miracle. Will he be willing to bring that gift along, ride shotgun with us and use it to help others make better choices in their lives? The answer comes that night as he quietly singles out the kids he perceives are at risk of falling into "the life", takes them aside and works his gift to keep them from making tragic decisions.

So, with gratitude to Hoolie, Leslie, Jaime, Derry, Sarah, Griselda, Crystal, Monk, Tsilah, Judy and Alex for having the courage to put your hearts in harm's way, I turn to a more difficult task: Finding the funds to save your jobs (so that you can continue to save lives) in a society that doesn't have time to see the enormity of your loving efforts, because everyone is hurting these days. But we will prevail. We must. Our broken hearts will allow nothing less.

InLakesh (you are the other me)



Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday's Follow Up

"The future depends on what we do in the present"-Mahatma Gandhi

What do unhappy people have in common?

Check out the benefits you'll reap from being social connected and what you can do to "Change 2 Lives".

See our teens riding the waves from the latest surfing session.

We're looking for a few good mentors
Help us help our youth. Become a mentor!

Juliana reaches out to our teens following a police raid in their neighborhood.

Thursday's Thoughts
With the economy suffering, many adults flock to jobs intended for teens.

Hope in the Shape of a Supermarket?
Fresh produce in South Central was once thought as a joke and will now become a reality.

Have a great weekend!
La J

Hope in the Shape of a Supermaket?

Central Avenue is Dreaming

Today, at the corner of Central and 20 Street, it can arguably be said that "hope" is having a grand opening but under the name of "Superior Grocers." This $27.5 million development will cover 45,000 square feet of retail space and 85 affordable-housing apartments. The large development is the first full-scale market to open up in that area in over 5 years. Many argue that this is a sign of "hope" and revitalization for the community. Not only will the market offer a large amount of fresh produce, something that the surrounding community has always struggled to find, but it will also supply local residents with 130 full-time positions. The opening of such a large development will definitely have an effect on how the local residents view their community especially because it will supply the community with vital resources.

Superior's research showed that they would have a potential market of 440,000 people from the "dramatically underserved neighborhood." Although the opening of such a huge development WILL create opportunities and have a positive effect on the community, we must not forget that this "dramatically underserved neighborhood" has existed for decades and the research conducted on behalf of the company did not supply shocking new results. We must be critical of the fact that there are plenty of other large grocery chains in Los Angeles County, and even though that is the case, it is not until September 2009 that this community is supplied with such resources. Also, does this large supermarket pose a threat to small mom and pop shops? An even larger question to ask is, Can we look at this development as merely a positive addition to the community or is it gentrification at its best and are we all victims of it?

Our communities have been underserved, underepresented, and marginalized for decades and that is why now more than ever, every bit of change that comes their way cannot simply be taken for face value. We must all be critical of not only the positive effects these changes and developments will have but also of the negative ones. More importantly, we must ask why did it take so long for these needs to be addressed, is it being done in the best interest of the community or in the best interest of the third parties involved?

These are just questions to think about. Overall, the development and opening of this Superior seems to be heading in a positive direction and we shall hope that it remains that way.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts

"Teens lack jobs despite job effort"

The Workforce Investment Act summer program was designed to train youth ages 14-24 with the skills they need to enter the workforce. Unfortunately in several states, including California, this program didn't reach the group of people in was intended for. With the state of the economy, many adults turned to this opportunity to brush up on their skills and take advantage of the job opportunities that were available to them. This would have been a great opportunity for many of our teens to learn new skills, but it's difficult when they don't know what is available to them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


As I get ready in the morning I put on the local news, primarily as background noise and to figure out what the weather is going to be so I know what cute outfit to put on for the day. And without fail there is a report on a shooting, or a horrible crime to which my heart clenches at the sound of… “God, please don’t let it be one of my kids”. Fortunately, most of the time, I can exhale in relief, but sometimes, the pain lingers.

Yesterday was one of those morning where the pain stayed with me. At the sound of “Police raided the Avenues gang…” the blood drained from my face, “ 1400 arrested in the sweep…” my heart began to race as the faces of the mentees in our program began flashing through my mind. “Congratulations to the LAPD for a job well done….” I feel sick. Once again my kids are nothing more than statistics and labels; a nuisance to be disposed.

That night, in the neighborhood where the raid had happened, we held our session. There was a lot of frenetic energy, and palpable tension, I knew we had to address it… I don’t claim to understand what it must be like to have to live under constant fear and anger, so I stumbled at my attempt to reach out. There was silence. I looked at Leslie, my amazing colleague, knowing she could break through, this is her neighborhood too, and she knew some of the young men who had been taken in. Her question was simple. “Who here has been bothered by the police?” Almost all their hands went up. “Did any of you know anyone who got picked up?” Little Jorge, raised his hand and told us the story of they were woken up at 4:30 in the morning by police who took his step dad into custody. “That must have been scary” I said. He nodded.

Cynthia raised her hand – “ A cop hit me in school once” “Did you report him?” we asked, “Yeah, but nothing happened, because the vice principal was standing right there when he did it, and denied it” Fortunately she doesn’t go to that school any more.

“Is anyone angry? I know I am” I said feeling my face flush. “Hey Miss, why are you angry?” a small voice asked. “I am angry that we have done such a crappy job at protecting you. I am angry that it isn’t safe for you to walk to school in the morning. I am angry that you have become a news story without a face. I am angry that our society feels good when others fall.”

I am angry because there will be many more raids in this and other communities, and that what we do will be more needed than ever.


We're looking for a few good mentors...

We're looking for a few... well actually a whole lot of new mentors for our new programs starting up. Please help us spread the word. As Tony mentioned in his blog, "if you reduce your time in front of the TV by 5%, you can use that time to mentor a young person in one of Youth Mentoring Connection's programs"

Couldn't have said it better, Tony! Please help us spread the word. The pitch is below.

Domo Arigato!


Be a Mentor for At-Risk Youth

Youth Mentoring Connection has a 10-year history of delivering worksite- and community-based mentoring programs serving "at-risk" teens throughout Los Angeles. Our mentoring programs are relationship-based - through developing a trusting relationship with a caring, consistent adult, our youth are able to develop more trust and esteem in themselves.

We provide the necessary structure and support to help mentoring matches succeed. Mentors and mentees meet twice a month, for nine months, on a set calendar. One meeting each month is a "Group" session, where all 30 mentor-mentee pairs meet together for facilitated group activities to build trust, community, relationship skills, and life skills. The other session each month is a "One-on-One," where mentors and mentees go off to do activities of their own choosing (dinner, movie, ball game, etc.) We are currently seeking mentors for two programs that meet on Thursdays from 5:30-7:30pm. Our Adams Program is scheduled to begin October 1st, meets near USC and focuses on middle school youth. The Children’s Hospital Program will begin November 5th and takes place in North East Los Angeles in Cypress Park with youth ages 10-15.

Staff provide extensive training and support to mentors - our goal is to be there for you so you can be there for our youth! No special skills are required, just the desire to help a young person reach his or her full potential. Mentors should be age 21 or over, and own or have regular access to a vehicle. We ask that mentors be able to keep their commitment to their mentee through attending the scheduled group and one-on-one sessions, and making one phone or email contact in the off weeks. We ask mentors to show up, role model participation, be genuine, and be themselves. We conduct an interview, background check, and mentor training to ensure the safety of our youth, and to prepare mentors for what to expect. From there - the rest of the magic happens on its own through the mentoring process!

Interested? Please email Monk Turner, Program Coordinator, at, or call us at 323-731-8080 x105 if you have any questions. If you're ready to go, you can simply apply online. We look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surfing 9/20

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tony's Blog: What do Unhappy People Have in common? They watch more TV. What makes you happy is...

connection between people.

A study from the University of Maryland that followed people for 30 years concluded that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as very happy, spend more time reading and socializing. We have seen other studies that conclude the same. It seems that even people who say that "in the moment" their television watching is pleasurable, over the long haul are far less happy than those who spend more time socializing.

On the other hand, people who volunteer to help others, report a much higher level of happiness in their lives because they are exercising two very powerful happiness generators:
1. being socially connected to others;
2. being connected with something bigger than yourself;

Perhaps this is why I enjoy the company of the wonderful folks who volunteer to mentor youth. They are generally happier people.

So here's the shameless pitch: if you reduce your time in front of the TV by 5%, you can use that time to mentor a young person in one of Youth Mentoring Connection's programs, or one of the many other mentoring programs around the country and world. Because you create that vital human connection for two people you Change Two Lives.

*researchers at UC Berkeley estimate that the average American spends approximately 3 hours per day watching TV.
One hundred years from now,
it will not matter what kind of car I drove,
what kind of house I lived in
how much I had in my bank account,
nor what my clothes looked like.
But the world may be a little better
because I was important
in the life of a child

Tony LoRe

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday's Follow Up

One must start off with: Happy Birthday Hoolie!!!! YMC sends all their love!

Second chance? He never had a first chance
Tony wrote a powerful blog of living in a world where teens are not exposed to respect with love.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee: Jonathan & Marquise

Jonathan expresses to Marquise how much trust he has in his mentor.

When I grow up
Juliana shares her reflections about her life as her birthday approaches.

Thursday's Thoughts
One of our mentor's, Bridgett Thompson is a part of a great organization that provides sports and equipment to at-risk youth.

Surf this weekend and Leadership Board meeting on Monday. Everyone have a great weekend!
La J

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts

This week I'd like to highlight a great organization that one of our very own mentors, Bridgett Thompson, is a part of. Let's Give Them a Shot, founded by Derek Locklear, provides quality sports instruction and equipment to kids living in "at-risk" areas of Los Angeles. LGTS teaches kids the basics of volleyball, baseball/softball, and soccer. While kids have the opportunity to play sports, they are also learning important life lessons such as sharing, teamwork and community and beginning a path towards a healthy lifestyle. Many of the kids LGTS works with, live in areas with limited resources, limited open space to play in addition to high obesity rates.

Bridgett Thompson is going onto her 7th year as mentor in our Odyssey program. Not only is she a great mentor, but somehow she finds the time to be a part of another great organization like Let's Give Them a Shot. She firmly believes in the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and discovering oneself through sports. “I love sports and know that it can be a healthy tool in building character. Participating in sports is more than just about winning its learning life lessons: helping others, sharing and team work. Kid’s lives these days often have a lot vying for their attention. I coach to teach kids to let go, relax, enjoy and play their game in that moment. It is important to look forward but also stay in the present. These lessons and skills will last long after the season ends.”

Thanks to LGTS many kids will benefit from having positive role models in their life!

If you would like more information about Let's Give Them a Shot, please visit their website:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When I grow up....

As my birthday approaches I have been rather reflective, thinking about all the things I wanted to be as a little girl. I wanted to be an oceanographer, an archeologist, a smoking nun, or someone who could love for a living.
Now let’s break these down. I loved all of the pretty, colorful fish, and was fascinated by whales, so being an oceanographer made sense to a five-year-old. But who are we kidding, that would mean that I wouldn’t. have a decent hair day my entire life, and that simply would not do.
I was equally fascinated by ancient Egypt - old ruins, mummies, priceless artifacts… National Geographic really did a job on me. And as much as I loved to play in the dirt, it also meant I would be sleeping in tents, and I am more of a sleeping on a soft feathery bed with room service kinda girl.
Now the smoking nun is an interesting story. I always knew I wanted to smoke, because I saw my dad and mom both look so refined and sophisticated smoking with cigarette holders – sooo 50’s glam right?! And from my young perspective it looked like nuns really didn’t do much. I saw them at airports on occasion, so I knew they traveled, I knew they were "married" to God, and that seemed easy enough, and they took care of poor people. How hard could that be? Until I watched A Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn. Oh hell no! I was scared straight!
So that left me with loving people for a living… How in the world was I going to find that job? And as one does, I forgot all about it, distracted by a real love of theatre. Having a mom who started a English speaking group in Colombia, I grew up in a darkened theatre and lived in make believe worlds for much of my adolescence, which probably saved my life. And that is how I actually got to LA. I came here looking for all the fame and glory I knew I was destined for… Not so much. I had the good fortune of being a PA for a very low budget film, where one of the leads was a porn star, and the executive producer would bring in zip lock bags full of weed to the office to share. A real class act! After taking a 6 month shower to wash off all the slime off of me, I did odd jobs, until I met Debrah, and she introduced me to my bliss. Working with young people from a community the world had already made up it’s mind was not worth saving.
Last Sunday, I went bowling with a few of the young people I first met, back in the day. My OG babies, who are now in their late 20’s and early 30’s. (That part makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth) They are vibrant, successful, and gloriously funny adults, who a) tell me I look exactly the same – and that is because I raised them right, and b) claim that I had some part in them growing up to be who they are today.
I am humbled, blessed, and grateful for every day that I get to love for a living. And for the chance I get every day to learn to love myself, the way that these amazing young people love me.
Your older, and yet more refined friend,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Jonathan & Marquise

"I would like to thank my mentor for being a great mentor. My mentor let me know he cared by talking to me. He would ask me how my week was and told me I can trust him with anything. From this experience I learned I should always try to have a good day even though the day is going bad. Thank you, Marquise"

Michael Meade - The Light Inside Dark Times & The Soul Of Change

Friday ~ Sep 18th ~ 7pm
Community Room at the Crossroads School
1715 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA

When the news seems bad and getting worse, the mind falters and even the spirit, that uplifting aspect of earthly life, can fail to light the way. Soul would makes us deeper in order to make us wiser. Secretly, our souls seek wisdom and wisdom is a darker knowledge found in dark places and in hard times.

The Soul of Change
Finding Meaning and Purpose in Troubled Times

An intensive workshop with author, mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade

Sat. ~ Sep 19th ~ 9:30-5 PM
Community Room at the Crossroads School
1715 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA

When feeling most lost we have lost the soul connection. Yet, in times of trouble we can discover what is truly ours, what lives in our soul, what cannot be taken from us. When all seems lost the things that are most essentially ours can be found again.

For more information on both these events please visit the Mosaic Website

Monday, September 14, 2009

Second chance? He never had a first chance!

His living inheritance: the gang life. Dad=gang banger; mom=gang banger; uncle=Big Homie (gang leader). His last memory of his "rest-in-peace" older brother was when the brother threw him on the ground, rolled on top of him to shield him from the bullets of a rival gang and died from the bullets that entered his body. The neighborhood he's growing up in is one of the most densely gang-involved areas in the world and of its entire population, less than 25% have graduated high school. There are precious few positive male role models. He's feared in the hood. So, the only youth center won't allow him inside because they need to protect the others from him.

You can understand his confusion when I tell him "I love you." It took awhile, but now he responds in kind (not loud enough for anyone else to hear). Despite the fact that every other word out of his mouth is a lie, I know him to be a noble young man. It's just that the set of values and norms that he lives by were learned on the streets--the only place that would have him. Please forgive my tears as we sit in a circle with 15 other young men (mostly not gang involved) listening as one-by-one they tell stories of how he saved their lives, risking his own to intervene and keep the local bangers from taking them down for being stupid enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or pretending to be something they are not. He is emulating his first and most influential role model: "rest-in-peace brother."

So he calls me to tell me that he went to Trade Tech College to enroll in welding classes and try to make a life for himself. I'm skeptical (one must be because we haven't had the resources to adequately prepare him to succeed in such an endeavor) but remain positive. He asks for a ride to visit his child who has been placed in foster care. I'm tired--too long without a day off, but how do you say "no" to that. Seeing him play with his little boy, exhibiting the love and tenderness that he can show now because there are no enemies or homies to front for, makes me grateful for this blessed work that I am privileged to do. Stay tuned--maybe his first chance is right around the corner.

With love and respect,