Monday, October 12, 2009

Tony's Blog: Stimulate This!

Every day I go to the Office of Justice Programs website that announces the Recovery Act Youth Mentoring grant awards with an irrational hope that Youth Mentoring Connection will show up on the list of grantees. It took days for the banking industry to get their 800 billion dollars, but the 4 million that will be shared amongst 25 youth agencies from across the country will be delayed for months. For the past several weeks there have been 24 names on the list. Bureaucracy has an unending capacity to frustrate.

Just a fraction of one of the bonuses that the banks gave out to their execs with that stimulus money could fund our entire organization for a year. We live in a Plutonomy (from 'pluto' or wealth and 'economy' - an economic system that benefits the wealthy) where the top 1% control over 50% of the net worth in America. Corporate CEO's now make in one day what their avg. worker makes in an entire year, while families in our neighborhoods don't even create a blip on the radar screen of income. African-American and Latino families in the communities we serve are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. Where's their recovery act? Our teens are competing with each others' parents for the jobs that they used to get to help their own parents keep a household together. The middle class is disappearing, parents are moving in with their adult kids, and kids are staying in their parents' home longer than ever.

Non-profits are closing, furloughing, laying off, cutting back in record numbers, but we refuse to give up, or cut services to even one youth.

Well, I guess we have to come up with some new ideas. As Hoolie often says: "We can do this!"

So, where do I get my stimulus?

...Certainly not from anything having to do with the economy. What stimulates me is:

Seeing my house packed with 25 loving and giving souls who gave up yet another Saturday to prepare to mentor our youth at our upcoming mountain retreat. We go around the room while each man shares the struggles that have shaped them into the kind of person that can sit with a deeply wounded child and demonstrate the most authentic level of listening that the young person can experience.

Michael humbly says that he's not sure how he can contribute to the retreat and then proceeds to crack the room open and create a dialogue that shows all the other men how to engage in the deep conversation that will end up saving a kid's life.

Andres demonstrates how a man can show strength and tears at the same time.

Jamie and Monk offer their unconditional support to the other men while continuing to expand the limits of their ability to love and give.

I walk into the space where the women are planning and Becky, who is dealing with her own problems, looks up and smiles as if to say, "We all heal each other".

Hoolie is the picture of authenticity as she leads the women in discussion, then welcomes the men. She has stepped into a role in this work finally befitting the size of her enormous heart and spirit.

Afterwards Chris, Allison and I sit and talk about how Youth Mentoring Connection and Street Poets (our closest partner in this cause) can collaborate and support each other while we move to bring a different imagination of how our culture supports its youth and heals itself. While we talk, my beautiful partner Susan deftly handles the last guests and puts the house back in order (even though she said she wouldn't be able to help because she had to prepare a high level presentation for Monday).

Later I receive an e-mail from our consummate mentor Danni, thanking me for introducing her to such wonderful people and wonderful work, while everyone else is consistently thanking me for introducing them to her.

On Sunday I surf with Mark, our newest board member and brilliant film maker whose generosity of spirit seems to know no bounds; receive an encouraging phone message from my sister Linda who has injected more stimulus into YMC than she wants anyone to know about; take a call from Wil who is offering to donate the talismans that each youth will take from their retreat experience; then another call from Heather saying that she is arranging to have a foundation donate hundreds of books to our youth.

Next, I make my way to see Jose, who has been fighting for his life, all his life. He has made significant progress lately and wants me to moderate a discussion between him and his girlfriend.
"You're like a father to me," he says. I am humbled because no father would ever allow his son to go through the things that I've seen this young warrior go through. I do what I can, but in reality I do very little for him. He just has no baseline for comparison. His father has been in prison his entire life.

Finally, this morning I pick up Sarah on my way into the office (her car is under repair) and we load all the food she made for our entire staff. YMC used to provide lunch for staff every Monday as a way of thanking them for their tireless effort at low pay. We can no longer afford to do that. So, now instead, we take turns cooking for each other. I love these people. Each Monday a different staff member brings lunch for the entire crew.

So today, I will once again find my stimulus in the privilege of working alongside the most amazing group of self-sacrificing human beings I could ever dream of sharing this path with, while we prepare for a week filled with the honor of guiding hundreds of caring adult volunteers in an effort that gives hope to hundreds of wounded but resilient and gifted young people.

That's my stimulus package. It won't pay the rent or buy a meal, but my heart and soul will be full.
Tony LoRe

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