Monday, November 30, 2009

Friday's Follow Up

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
Helen Keller

Tony's Bog: The Continuing Adventures of Gio in Wonderland
Tony discusses how important it is to beware of the company we keep. Gio continues to inspire those around him as he moves forward in life with education.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee-Christina & Brittani
Brittani wants to thank Christina for keeping her on the right track.

The Hugging Monster
Sarah writes about the controversial aspects of hugging.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!
La Judy

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Hugging Monster

A rap video circulating where a Christian Youth Group promotes the “Christian Side-Hug” – as opposed to the “sinful” regular front hug – inspired some thoughts on hugging, and the fear of hugging, in our culture. You can view the video at

For many years my mom taught elementary school in the San Fernando Valley. As a teenager, I became my mom’s principal audience as she held forth nightly on the administrative policies and priorities that made it so difficult for her to do her job.

One night, my mom came home and announced that teachers had been told not to hug students. One can understand why a school might generate such a policy: a genuine desire to protect students from inappropriate touch, fueled in part by a crippling fear of lawsuits. My mom, however, is an experienced mother of two, whose students at the time were little 5-year-olds who still wet their pants and cried on the first day of kindergarten. And my mom was a hardworking teacher who cared for and nurtured her students. How not to hug and comfort a scared child who’s skinned his knee on the playground? How not to hug and congratulate a young student who’s done a good job with a new skill? To my mom, this policy was another example of the district’s bungling attempts to address a real problem.

We should talk about this problem. As someone who screens mentors for a living, the specter of child molestation looms large in my mind. However. To what extent does stigmatizing healthy, affirmative touch protect our kids or even address the issue?

To me, if we need to rely on rules like “no hugging” to assure ourselves that no one is acting inappropriately, we’ve completely abandoned the kind of trust, community, and mutual accountability which actually keep our youth safe and healthy. (When I do hear from our youth about instances of past abuse, it is almost invariably people close to them who have committed these crimes, too often in environments of neglect, mistrust, or little supervision. No amount of rules or screening will keep our kids safe in the absence of real community and adult accountability.)

In our mentoring programs, we have a culture of hugging. Our youth adore hugs; they love nonjudgmental, affirmative contact. They have often learned that they need to act sexual to get attention, which leads to all sorts of risky teenage behavior. When they come to mentoring, they get hugs if they want them – just for being themselves.

In our community, hugging is an act of affirmation rather than a risk to be mitigated. We create an environment of respect for everyone’s needs. We teach mentors to (gasp!) exercise sensitivity and good judgment when approaching mentees, and to let kids take the lead in initiating contact. We teach a technique called the “side hug” – you can probably picture what this looks like – which is friendly and less full-on than a regular hug.

Which brings me back to my inspiration for this, the rap video circulating on the “Christian Side-Hug.” I am all about the side-hug. I think side hugs are great! I’ll side-hug youth I don’t know too well, and I usually prefer to get a side-hug from men I don’t know too well either. I think everyone should know how to side-hug. But does this make front-hugs “sinful?” Or is this another instance of mistrust for ourselves, our youth, and our collective capacity to care for each other? I’ll leave that one up to you.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Christina & Brittani

"My mentor means everything to me. She's like the supportive big sister I never had. Me and Christina share a special bond beyond mentor and mentee. She's very close to my heart. She has my back to the end all the way and I have hers. I thank Christina for putting forth the effort and the time do things outside of mentoring as far as helping me find various activities to keep me motivated on the right track and the special events she takes me on. I love Christina clearly she's a very special person to me".

Love always your mentee,

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tony's Blog: The Continuing Adventures of Gio in Wonderland

Hoolie’s blog last Wednesday, All For Nothing, made me think that those of us that work to help others heal would be reminded of the words of Cicero:

“If we are forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events,

this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive

even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity.”

Rumi suggests a simple remedy:

“Be with those who help your being.”

Those who help my being:

Some of the young guys go with me to play hoops on Saturday morning. I got a kick out of seeing how one of my regulars, Giovani (Gio) was so excited to see one of my staff, Jamie join us. All the guys love Jamie. They like to be around him. I think to myself: “we need more Jamie’s in this work”.

After the game Jamie says “its different playin with you guys. We get so many games in because the fellas aren’t standing around arguing every play.” Thanks for the reminder Jamie. That’s why I started this group all those years ago. How easy it is to forget and start to take things for granted. Things like the fact that I don’t have to live in conflict every day of my life. It’s a decision I made years ago. We invite only guys that will play in the spirit of camaraderie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s competitive, just that nobody is trying to prove their manhood with a basketball game.

Flash back to the previous Saturday: After our games I drive Gio out to the LAX Marriott for a conference. He’s now on his high school debate team. On the way I ask him if he’s excited and he answers “kinda”. He’s nervous. An hour later a message comes in on my cell phone. “I just wanted to call you to say that now that I’m actually here, I’m really excited…” There’s such a sense of wonder in his voice it brings a smile to my face.

So, today when I pick him up I can’t wait to hear his story. “It was so good Tony! I’m standing there waiting and looking around going “I’m really here.” “That place was so nice. The carpet was so soft I just wanted to lay down on it! He continues, “I’m waiting for my team to show up and I overhear two guys from another school talking about their AP Calculus test coming up.” “These are really smart guys…and I’m here too. I must be smart too.” He went on to tell me about the topics that he debated that day (the right to smoke in public,” Obama care”, and others) and the accolades that he received. What he seemed most proud of was that he inspired another debater. The guy told him that hearing Gio speak on “the silver spoon syndrome” helped him find his voice about his own upbringing.

All of this underscores a message we had just given at our monthly ECHO Discussion Session Friday night. Be careful of the company that you keep. We can surround ourselves with people who encourage our higher self or those that try to drag us down. There is a third and more powerful option: to become the person that lifts others up. However, that takes some self development, and the wisdom to replenish ourselves with the presence of those who inspire us. So the process goes like this:

Step One: Surround yourself with those who inspire you

Step Two: Learn to be good company for yourself; because that is the company you’ll keep for the rest of your life.

Step Three: Become the good company that others seek in order to be uplifted

Step Four: Repeat step one

Back to Wonderland:

My young friend Gio has a strong sense of where he is in his own development. So he gets up every morning at 5am to take the bus to a school where he can participate in things that lift his spirit and put him in company with those that help him see himself in a better light.

I look forward to Gio’s company because he sees this world through the eyes of wonderment, and reminds me to be present enough to want to lie down on the soft carpet.