Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

"The ultimate tradedy is not the oppression and the cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tony's Blog: Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string

Tony uses this parable to discuss oppression. Please take a read!

Tuesday with Mentor & Mentee - Carrie & Brizaneny
Brizaneny is happy that Carrie is her mentor. Brizaneny is amazed that Carrie cares so much about her future.

Wednesday's Word On The Street: I Love YMC
Gerica discusses why YMC is a gift that keeps on giving!

There was a great Mix, Mingle and Mentor discussion on Wednesday night. To all who participated, you rock!
Rainy weekend, stay dry.
La Judy

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday's Word On The Street: I Love YMC

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve been blessed with many gifts, and Youth Mentoring Connection happens to be one those gifts. I joined YMC because although I had role models who set great examples for me and many people who would die to see me succeed, I wanted to create bond with someone who would let Gerica be Gerica. I wanted to be able to talk freely, laugh freely, vent freely; create a relationship that I knew would last. And no relationship lasts longer than a family. That’s exactly what YMC is. They encourage me, teach me, help me, push me (in a GREAT way), they are EXTREMELY patient with me, and they love me.

YMC is also one of those gifts that just decided to keep on giving. In August of 2009 I began my freshman year of college at San Jose State University as a Film major. I am so proud to say that my family (YMC) has helped me get here. I never knew exactly what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing until I found something that had a combination of two of my many strengths; creativity and command. With film I am able to “direct”, which translates to me as “bossing people around” and put forth my leadership skills. With film I am also able to edit footage and create many different projects that can portray my view of whichever the content of the footage is.

I always knew that YMC loved me but they put a heavy duty lock on that box when they added the Urban Oasis Film Academy to their list of programs. I was blessed to have been a part of the first film produced by the academy, which has led to many other great things. Our film was featured in the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Future Filmmakers Showcase. I participated in the “Digital Dreams” film panel at the Pan African Film Festival. I also have a College Internship granted by the City of San Jose through Work2Future. I am placed at San Jose Jazz, a non-profit organization, and I am editing footage from 2009 of their annual film festival and also putting together a video for their website.

I really am grateful for YMC and I will never forget or take for granted the love and guidance they have shown me.

I love Youth Mentoring Connection!

Gerica Preston

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shout! --Meet & Greet

Rhino --Fantasy Island

Warner Brothers Matching Session

Rhino Matching Session

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Carrie & Brizaneny

"Carrie, you are a phenomenal mentor. I have learned so much about you and I was able to express myself with you. You always made me feel comfortable around you. I am glad we made commitments and agreements with each other. You have a fantastic personality and I will always be thankful you were there for me when I needed someone. You are a great person and thanks for caring about my future."


Monday, February 22, 2010

Tony's Blog: Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been around here.

~author unknown

After people have been oppressed long enough, they begin to oppress themselves.

What responsibility do the rest of us have?
…or should we just continue to blame them.

Final observation:
Blaming ourselves for what we inherited doesn't help, but continuing to participate in it is not the answer either.


Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." Walt Disney

Tony's Blog: The World Does Not Support "Shy"

Tony tells the story of one of our mentees who is getting to pursue his life's dream to become a stuntman because he was willing to share his story with us.  (some great pics of stuntman training)

Tuesday With Mentor and Mentee - Tarah & Yasmin

Yasmin thanks Tarah for teaching her that there are people in this world that she can trust, talk to and someone who will listen.

There's No Place Like YMC
Thank you Agueda for sharing your YMC experience. We too are grateful that you are here for the mentees.

Rain this weekend...February showers brings March flowers!
La Judy

Thursday, February 18, 2010

There's No Place Like YMC

I have been sitting in front of my computer for a couple hours now trying to find an interesting article to write Thursday’s blog posting on but nothing has grabbed my attention. All the articles are either merely taking up space because they focus on issues that are extremely idiotic or useless. For example, why would I care what Kim Kardashian is twittering while on an airplane? So after getting over my initial frustration on the lack of relevant and pressing topics, I realized, why don’t I write about my experience so far working at Youth Mentoring Connection?

When I started working at YMC back in September of 2009 I had a vague understanding of what exactly the organization was about. I knew they had partnerships with corporations and also had community based mentoring programs but what I did not understand was how exactly they “changed lives.” Interestingly enough, if someone were to ask me now: “What is it that YMC does that allows them to say they change lives?” this is what I would respond:

I have never had the privilege to work with individuals who are so committed to what they do. They truly care about the well-being and growth of every mentee who is part of a program. All the programs take in youth from South Los Angeles who have to deal with so many things on top of a typical teenager’s life. Many have struggled with housing issues, income stability, gang related issues, and so many other things that overwhelm them. YMC provides them a space to learn about themselves, their mentors, and get away from all of life’s daily stresses. Every time I leave any mentoring session, whether it is Paramount, Warner Brothers, Rhino, HBO, etc. I feel so grateful to be able to be a part of the culture that YMC creates.

Until coming here, I had never been in a space where adults did not do most of the talking and actually listened to what youth had to say. The mentors in these programs take time out their days to be a part of our sessions and they are also very committed to making sure their mentees are doing well.

When I attended the girls initiation retreat back in October I was a bit overwhelmed with the intense and sacred space that was created up in the mountains. Many of the mentees were so willing to talk about their struggles in life and although it was difficult for everyone to hear some of the things these young woman have gone through it was an honor to know that they felt safe enough to share their stories. On the way back from the retreat, I carpooled with my manager and I told her how fortunate I felt to have been able to attend and also be a mentor. I had my own cabin with four or five mentees and I felt I made a connection with all of them in their own unique way. I was able to talk about college and higher education in general with several mentees and I kind of gave them an “applying to college: 101” course on the essentials on their decision making. I was angry to hear some of them say that their counselors had discouraged them from even considering college as an option. It's awesome to know that these young people feel comfortable to come to me or any of the individuals I work with for support.

Seeing the connections and trust that mentees have with people like Tony, Hoolie, Leslie, Jamie, and Derrion is amazing. I think that many adults fail to remember the power that we all have when we are a part of a young persons life. We can either positively or negatively effect them and if more people took the role that people at YMC do youth would be in a better place in our society.

As the months have gone by and I’ve been able to learn more about the organization, have been a part of more programs, and have heard first hand testimonials from parents who see the program working for their children, I feel that there is no other place I could be working at that would have taught me what I have learned here. They not only change the lives of young people by giving them resources and simply valuing their thoughts, experiences, and mere existence but they also allow adults to reflect and be critical of the way they interact with youth at large.

I recently became a mentor myself and although I will admit I am a bit nervous I am also excited and anxious to get to know my mentee and grow from this wonderful opportunity. I only wish such a thing was possible for the youth that live where I grew up, but maybe in the future such thing will exist for them. :)


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Paramount --Family Night

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Tarah & Yasmin

Dear Tarah,
Thank you for everything you have done and for spending your time with me when I needed a friend to hang out with. Thank you a million times I had a great time with you. You are like my big sister. My family appreciates everything and so do I. You showed me you cared when you got in contact with me, asked me how I was. From this program I learned that there are people in this world you can trust and can talk to and that actually listen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tony’s Blog: The World Does Not Support “Shy”

In this otherwise cynical and increasingly polarized world I am fortunate to see the best of the human spirit on a regular basis because of the work that I have chosen as my life’s path. I see people who have given up lucrative careers to work with youth because they saw a greater purpose for their life. I see adults give up large chunks of their time to mentor young people through difficult passages. I also see accomplished professionals using their gifts, cultivated over a lifetime of dedication, to give back and inspire young people to imagine a better future for themselves.

This morning I had the privilege of witnessing just that, as acclaimed stuntman, stunt coordinator, actor and director John Moio invited me to bring one of our young men from YMC to his Stuntman Workshop that he conducts twice per week without charging any of his students a penny to benefit from his wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience.

Our young man who received this opportunity of his lifetime is Floyd Atkins.

Two of the tenets that I am constantly reinforcing with our youth are:

1. Don’t compromise your dreams
2. The world does not support “shy”. If you don’t put yourself out there the world is not likely to come to you.

Floyd has dreamed of becoming a stuntman since he was six years old hanging onto his father's back as dad lept onto the roof of their house.  When Floyd witnessed similar behavior in the movies and on tv he was hooked and has been testing his body's athletic capacities ever since. 

Following my advice from above he shared his dream with us. So, when I was introduced to John Moio by my friend Cristi Catlin of HBO, and learned about his gifts as a stuntman I knew that Floyd’s opportunity to move in the direction of his dream had arrived.
Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection

Floyd Atkins at his first Stuntman Workshop

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

"Satisfaction does not come with achievement, but with effort. Full effort is full victory." Mahatma Gandhi

Tony's Blog: If your business could pay people 25% less and double'd be a nonprofit.

Tony discusses that if maybe the passion and purpose that drive many non-profits could help transform the business-sector. Perhaps this could help people to be happier, more fulfilled and more productive on the job.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee-Bryan & Marcos

Marcos thanks Bryan for encourageing him to pursue his dreams. Marcos likes being with Bryan and his son.

The 'hood as a tourist attraction

Agueda tells of
Alfred Lomas, a former Florencia 13 gang member, who is now the front man of tours that will take people around South Los Angeles. He gives tourists a first hand look on what the inner city lifestyle and gang life is like.

While the East coast is deep in snow, LA is going to be 80 degrees! Monday is holiday. Have fun!
La judy

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The 'hood as a tourist attraction

The 'hood as a tourist attraction

Let’s say an individual, employer, or group is interested in doing something that will positively influence another individual or the community, is the input of the party being effected not vital in order to have their best interest in mind? The issue then becomes, how much control will the ones being utilized or effected actually have of the project, plan, or even outcomes?

Alfred Lomas, a former Florencia 13 gang member, is now the front man of tours that will take people around South Los Angeles and give them a first hand look on what the inner city lifestyle and gang life is like, the first of which took place in January. The plan is to reinvest the revenues from these tours into the South Central community in order to foster economic growth, job training, and other opportunities for those living in the community.

If the driving force of this project is to create profit for the community to increase their opportunities to succeed, why is the first sentence of the projects mission “…to provide an unforgettable historical experience for our customers with a customized high-end specialty tour” ? Yes, in the following paragraph they explain the objective, which is to reinvest the money into the community, but what I am stuck on is why cater to your “tourist” audience in your first sentence and mention the community after?

The ceasefire agreement that is said to have been made between rival gangs so that the tour buses are allowed to go through the community at a certain time safely also paints an extremely dramatic picture of the gangs in South Los Angeles. When I hear such thing, I picture British Grenadier Guards standing at the each side of the street just waiting to draw their rifles or I think of the ceasefire agreement that was drawn between North and South Korea after the Korean War, and both of these examples are completely different from the life of gangs in South Central.

As I read more and this topic I find myself becoming more confused and frustrated. I keep trying to remain objective and write this blog from that space in our head we are lead to believe that exist; that place where one can be neutral and detach ourselves from our history and experiences and look at the larger picture, but the more I try the more I miserably fail. I guess I wanted this blog to be one which simply talked about the tours and remained impartial but the voice of an old professor at UCLA keeps playing in me head telling me “The personal is political.” For people who are invested in improving our system and creating a better reality for those around us it is impossible to not think about the things that have brought us to where we are at. Coming from a low-income neighborhood where many of my classmates and childhood friends are either part of a gang, in prison, or even dead, it is extremely trying to not get frustrated when our people are in a sense becoming a commodity for entertainment and their lives are being popularized in the name of “good.”

I am really trying to see how these tours will benefit the South Central community but I keep coming across red flags which make me question the efficacy of their project. Not only are the community and gang members being treated like sideshow freaks but a mockery of our culture is also being created. The fact that the people behind this project considered having kids from the community shoot the tourist with water guns and later have t-shirts that read “I Got Shot in South-Central” is absurd! I mean if they really want to make some people angry then, yes, that is a great idea but if they want to be conscious of the stereotypes they will be perpetuating with such actions then they should definitely lay off the water guns.

If I could talk to Alfred Lomas I would ask him how much input did he and his team actually get from the community before they drafted this project, did they try and use the communities input for potential money making ideas that did not involve tours, and once they decided that the tours were going to be the game plan did they create a space for the community to go in and voice what their thoughts and concerns?

The trick is to not just sit 50 tourists a month down, give them a tour of South Central and a brief history of racist housing laws and practices that created such communities and lead to gangs, it is to truly spread the word and educate the masses. What is a tourist from Australia really going to do to help change the situation of our communities? NOTHING! We need to invest our energy in the people who are not only the most effected by it but who can truly create the change needed. Also, if one of the objectives of the tours is to educate people on the history of racially discriminating laws that created a lot of the injustices our communities face today then why not increase awareness of literature or documentaries that do just that? There is plenty of information out there that can enlighten people on the governmental and societal practices that lead to our current situations; people just need better access and awareness on how to reach those resources.

My thoughts are so convoluted and in some ways I feel that I said so much but at the same time said nothing in this blog but I guess that directly reflects how I feel about these “Hood Tours.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Bryan & Marcos

"I thank Bryan for being my mentor because he always told me to not give up on my dream of being a director. He is like a brother because I had someone to talk to when I felt sad. Bryan showed me he cared for me by always trying to come to group sessions and one-on-ones. I also meet his son and we went to a museum together. I liked hanging out with Bryan and his son. One thing I learned in this program that will help me in my life is that you should never give up in life and you should keep fighting for your goals. I also learned to don’t get a job for money but do it because you like it and enjoy it".


Monday, February 8, 2010

Tony’s Blog: If your business could pay people 25% less and double productivity…

…you’d be a non-profit.

So why am I constantly hearing from people that non-profits need to be more businesslike? At a dinner recently with three of my closest and most respected advisors I rejected the notion that non-profits need to become more like for-profit businesses and was met with something just short of shock. It has become “conventional wisdom” (almost a cliché) and we in the “social sector” have meekly and humbly acquiesced.

Do we need to become more disciplined in our approach; more strategic; better planners; better at following up? Yes to all of those, but what business doesn’t need to do the same. I was a business consultant before coming over to the non-profit world and I brought a lot of the practices that I offered my corporate customers with me and a strong focus on outcomes. But I would argue that those practices are not specific to the business sector. There are many exceptionally well run non-profit organizations that we can learn from as well. In my experience most businesses are mediocre at best. Why would I want to bring that kind of thinking into my non-profit where my people are producing results that are off the charts? …and talk about loyal customers. Just follow this blog to hear from the hundreds of mentors and mentees whose lives have been changed by their experience with us.

Contrast that to some of the examples of what business has brought us as a society and it becomes even harder to worship at the altar of “business-like”. The problem is that we exist within a culture that has blindly followed a pseudo-libertarian notion that market forces are the answer to everything. Then we end up with Enron, Halliburton, Countrywide, Bernie Madoff, taxpayers bailing out General Motors and extorted by the financial industry to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. One could argue that this is a result of becoming too business-like, where dispassionate calculations about Return On Investment, quarterly profits and shareholder equity have replaced a true sense that business exists to provide value to the lives of human-beings. If you think I’m going too far afield here, note that a couple of years ago an influential donor advised me to cut one of our most successful programs because it wasn’t “running at a profit”, arguing that if it were that good it would have attracted more funding. It’s just not that simple when the people benefitting from your services are not the ones paying for them...and when the benefits are measured in human lives and not bottom line dollars.

Perhaps we should turn the equation around. Maybe corporations need to adopt more of the mindset of the social sector. Maybe the passion and purpose that drive many non-profits could help transform the business-sector so that people are happier, more fulfilled and more productive on the job. I wonder if that were the pervasive mindset if we would see as many abuses spurred by unregulated, “free market” ideology. I wonder if the human suffering that resulted from our economy careening off a cliff might have been prevented.

What do you think?



Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

"And as he spoke of understanding, I looked up and saw the rainbow leap with flames of many colors over me." Black Elk

Tony's Blog: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that

Tony talks about the current trend toward violent discourse. He suggests that through mentoring we can all learn how to exercise power with love and respect, honoring even those that disagree with us.

Tuesday with Mentor & Mentee-Vickie & Dineisha

Dineisha thanks Vickie for opening up to her and not just listening to her problems but giving her advice and ideas.

From a Mentor
A mentor from the Adams Yabos program, during the Mentee Summit, shared her reaction to listening to the real and honest emotions coming from the youth. She was amazed at the gritty experiences the kids had already endured. She felt priveldged to be a part of this mentoring program. The facilfacilitator Hoolie asked the mentees what it was like to have adults listen to them. The overwhelming response was that it felt awesome, and that it felt new. For one night, mission accomplished.

Rainy weekend ahead, Super Bowl Sunday and thank you Lakers Organization for allowing our kids go to a game.
La Judy

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

From a Mentor

Last Thursday, our Adams Yabos participated in a session called "Mentee Summit." Mentees form a panel, and mentors listen as the youth discuss topics that the group has voted on. One of our mentors, Fara Phillips, was kind enough to let us share her experience of the session:

"I found last night’s session to be a really powerful experience, especially the talk about gangs. The world these kids live in is so different from any I’ve ever known. I mean, we know these things already but hearing it from a kid sitting across from you has a much stronger impact than seeing it on TV or reading it in the paper. It’s so frustrating to hear middle and upper class folks sitting in their comfortable suburban homes who so often blame the kids, having no idea what their lives are like, the pressures and the sometimes subtle (and understandable) slide into hopelessness that leads to giving in. The percentage of kids who have been directly exposed to violence, seen folks die, and who know repeat offenders is staggering – again, we know it but now we KNOW it.

"It’s so easy to armchair coach someone else’s life. The fact that these kids are so young and are already facing such issues is a powerful social commentary. The experience will stay with me a long time. The kids seemed to enjoy having the chance to speak out as well.
I was happy to see that at least for now Victoria [Fara's mentee] wasn’t one of those kids raising their hand."

At YMC, mentoring is half of what we do. According to our mission statement, "our vision is of a community where young people are truly seen and not just watched, where society understands and accepts its responsibility in meeting the needs of all young people." Through bringing diverse adults and youth together, we have aspirations of social and cultural change.

At the end of the session, our facilitator Hoolie asked the mentees what it was like to have adults listen to them. The overwhelming response was that it felt awesome, and that it felt new. For one night, mission accomplished.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Vickie & Dineisha

"My mentor Vickie means a lot to me. She has been there for me since we first met. She listened to every problem I had and I love her for it. She opens up to me and I open up to her and it feels so good because I trust her with everything. I thank Vickie for opening up to me and not just listening to my problems but giving me advice and ideas. I thank her for loving and caring for me all the time".
Thank you!

I love you Vickie!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tony's Blog: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that

I have been mourning the lack of civil discourse lately and thinking about how our political process risks turning us into a nation of verbally violent people. People sitting at traditional seats of power at our highest levels of government sew hatred in order to incite the masses so that a political party can win some kind of advantage. They use fear to turn the gullible masses into tea bagger crowds demonizing and labeling their rivals.

Young people learn about power from adults. So, how can we sit in judgment of them as they form gangs and toss epithets at their rivals. Power without conscience is their cultural heritage if they look to the greater culture. So they take it to extremes. Their other alternative is to reject it altogether and check out in hundreds of different ways (apathy, cutting, mind-numbing drugs, alcohol, etc.).

Griselda, our beautiful young intern at YMC, attended a "Non-Violence Training" over the weekend and came back to tell me of people fighting for the same cause but fighting with each other in the process. "They were disagreeing on so many levels with such animosity towards each other that the whole thing turned me off." She described heated arguments over non-violent tactics ranging from total passivity to militantly taking it to the streets. She was looking for a different kind of imagination. There is a Buddhist concept of non-violent language which states that any language that divides us is violent.

Dr. Martin Luther King said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

What if adults were to exercise power with love and respect, honoring even those that disagree with us? I happen to like (peaceful) protests, but I have learned that what we need more is mentoring. Where are the elders who will cultivate a different kind of wisdom in our lives and offer it as an alternative example for the youth? I know that I have the privilege of working with many of them, hundreds of mentors, as well as our amazing staff at Youth Mentoring Connection. They number thousands of adults who have come into the lives of young people to try to create a different reality--one where respect and consideration replace judgment and blame.

yours in peace,