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 Her pants are held up by a string and the new shoes that grandma bought have been replaced by old worn ones.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,


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