Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Surfing 9/26

We had our last session this past Sunday. It started out with the initiation of a few visitors and we change it up a bit with a relay race. Mentees were catching waves and cooling off a bit from the heat. It was good end to the session!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Jen & Guadalupe

"I would like to thank you for being there for me and listening to me. Also, thank you Jen for taking time out to spend with me and my sisters and meeting my family. I appreciate the times you called me to make sure I was alright. You also encouraged me to keep moving forward. I have learned that people’s voices are important and everyone has the right to be heard. Everyone’s voice matters!"


Monday, September 27, 2010

Waiting For Superman: Waiting for America to become America for all children

In the tug-o-war between left and right, between union and management, between ideologues of different stripes all too often children become the rope. They become the rhetorical tool that people on either side of an argument use to argue their position. So you end up with a system that places accountability measures on schools, teachers and children while at the same time severely limiting their resources. The state of education in the State of California has been steadily declining since the passage of Prop 13 to the point that a system that once was the envy of the world is now a dysfunctional and horribly inequitable mess which has a racially skewed result. To be clear I’m not blaming Prop 13 for our educational problems, but rather an electorate that is more willing to fight for the interests of property owners than for the rights of all children for an equal education.

This should be no surprise as it simply follows the trends of this country. The rich get richer and the poor compete for what little resources are left. The well-to-do can afford expensive private schools ensuring that their progeny can take over their positions of power and influence. The balance of the population are relegated to a position of living off of the table scraps of the wealthy…and then are blamed for not being able to accomplish the near impossible. Our schools may be letting our kids down, but our society is letting our schools down. Children are not safe to walk to a school where they will not have the resources to learn effectively, taught by teachers who have to manage classrooms of 30-40 kids that enter at tremendously disparate levels of comprehension. This is partially the legacy of “No Child Left Behind”. It has left millions of children behind because it was an empty slogan so representative of our willingness in this country to get behind ideology but not worry about its repercussions on real human beings.

Enter the new documentary: "Waiting for Superman” to put a human face on this problem. Rhetoric and statistics disappear into the background when one witnesses the real human tragedy of a parent sitting in a hall watching for a lottery ball to drop in order to know if their kid will go to a school that will prepare her for college or one that will warehouse him for the streets and possible incarceration.

This exceptional piece of filmmaking has already created a tremendous amount of controversy and it only opened this past weekend. There will be much debate over teachers and unions and public schools vs. charter schools, and who is to blame. Entrenched interests will rush to defend their positions. The movie will no doubt be criticized for not offering enough comprehensive solutions, but is that the role of a documentary movie? We have to be careful that we don’t let a 90 minute film define the terms of the discussion. Let’s just let it do what it is intended to do: stimulate debate and inflame our desires to offer a better future for all children. The film does show us what is possible. It is up to us to all to stop “waiting for Superman” and engage in one of the most important debates of our lifetime. We need to get angry at what we see on the screen and then make that anger productive.

In an ironic twist, Superwoman Oprah Winfrey takes up the cause of “Waiting for Superman” and features Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg flying in like Superman to drop 100 million dollars on the Newark school system. While we heap praise on both of these wonderful actions (and appreciation for the spotlight that this puts on the problem), it is easy to lose sight of the millions of children who don’t get to go to the few schools who will benefit from these actions. It is a scary proposition that the well-being of the vast majority of the population is once again dependent upon handouts from the wealthy.  Every one of us needs to ask what we can do. Volunteer at a public school. Become a tutor. Better yet, become a mentor. Engage in the debate. Advocate for a more level playing field. Become active.

As mentors we realize how much power there is in simply paying attention to youth. So, when the youth of America see that we are debating and arguing over their future, even if we disagree, they may get a message that they do count after all. But if nothing comes of it, or if they see that we are cynically using them once again as the rope in our tug-o-wars about taxes and privilege and position, they will lose hope and we slip further into a culture of fear that continues to promote the interest of the few at the expense of the children of our future.



Tony LoRe
CEO/Founder Youth Mentoring Connection
Founder Boarding House Mentors

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Americans Prefer Sweden

Building a Better America- One Wealth Quintile at a Time

The results of recent study, conducted by Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, show that Americans would prefer to live in a country where there is more equality in the wealth distribution. Interestingly enough, these same participants under estimated the level of wealth inequality that presently exists in the United States.
Currently, it is estimated that the top 1% of Americans hold 50% of the countries wealth. In the study, participants said that they felt that the top 20% of the population controls 59% of the wealth, while in actuality, that number is more like 84%.

While equal distribution across the board was not preferred by the wealthiest or the poorest, it is still very crucial to point out that Americans are not too aware of the severe wealth distributions that exist in this country. Nevertheless, regardless of political inclinations, wealth, or gender, overall, participants desired a more equal wealth distribution. The example of the wealth distribution that was more commonly preferred in the survey reflected the wealth distribution of Sweden.

The voices of the American people must be taken into consideration by those in power. In theory, this government was designed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people,” then it is crucial that such results be incorporated into the way people are taxed, funding is distributed, and the overall “management” of this country.

It is difficult to understand and more so, accept how the inequality in wealth distribution in this country is as bad as it was in the 1920s right before the Great Depression. It is difficult not to focus on why things are the way they are, but with that said, it is also very important to empower individuals to access and use their agency. People must become aware and knowledgeable of such issues in order to expect any change.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Shane & Steve

"I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to hang out with me. I would also like to thank you for talking with me. I knew you cared because you always talked to me and listened to what I had to say. In this program I learned to be responsible".


Monday, September 20, 2010

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. MLK

Support the DREAM Act.
The defense authorization bill which includes the DREAM Act (and repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell") is scheduled for a vote tomorrow. 
Please join President Obama, Colin Powell, the LA Times, and thousands of other conscientious Americans and use your voice to offer support. 
Phone and e-mail your representatives in congress to tell them that you support these two amendments.  If this goes through much human suffering will be alleviated.  This is not political.  This is human! 
Be a part of the solution.
Our lives begin to end the day
we become silent about things that matter.  
Martin Luther King Jr.

Tony LoRe
CEO/Founder, Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis
Founder, Boarding House Mentors

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

Guess what CAN buy happiness!
Read Tony's blog about what the threshold is for the correlation between money and happiness. For those of you who make more than that, how about you help non-profits like YMC! :)

Surfing 9/12/10
Check out pictures from our last surfing session!

Tuesday with Mentor & Mentee- Derrion and Karen
Karen thanks her mentor Derrion for always being there for her and providing her helpful advice.

Act Now: Support the Dream before we lose another opportunity
Read about the new developments concerning the DREAM Act and how vital it is for everyone to support it.

It's Friday! YMC's blog is finally back in full effect! Thanks for reading :)


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Act Now: Support the Dream before we lose another opportunity

We just learned that The DREAM Act will be added as an amendment onto the Defense Authorization Bill going through Congress now – by far the best chance we have to get this through.  Please help us push for enactment.

This bipartisan effort is beyond politics.  The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors act would provide undocumented students the opportunity to earn permanent resident status through completion of higher education or military service.  This is essentially for young people who were brought into this country at a young age by their parents. If they were able to overcome all the obstacles in front of them, graduate high school, go on to college and demonstrate “good moral character” (no trouble with the law) they may qualify. 

This should be an easy one as we are only talking about people who stand a great chance of significantly contributing to society. Further, this is really the only place that they have ever called “home”. So, why shouldn’t they be able to fully participate in this society?

Once we get this through then we can begin to push for an intelligent, compassionate and comprehensive immigration policy.  But for now, let’s stop punishing these model young citizens for something their parents did.

Call or e-mail your senators and representatives to urge them to support this amendment.

contact info for your senator

contact info for your house rep

Learn about California's version of the Dream act and petition Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA) (he has vetoed it 5 times)

Please don't miss this real opportunity,


Tony LoRe
Founder/CEO, Youth Mentoring Connection

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Derrion & Karen

Dear Derrion

Thank you for being my mentor and thank you for being there for me all the way. You showed me you cared because you gave me advice to stop and think about how I was hurting my mom. Through this program I learned to sometimes give a chance to people you do not know.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Surfing 9/12

The below average temperature didn't stop mentees and mentors from coming to the beach to catch some waves. Whenever we're on the beach, the dolphins join our community and this session was no exception. We also had a special performance by the Back Pack Boyz, featuring several of our more experienced surfers.

Don't miss our last surf session on 9/26!

Guess what CAN buy happiness!

up to a point. 

In a program session last year I took one of my typical forays off the path of our intended agenda as the discussion became about understanding the importance of using money wisely; understanding the concepts of budgeting, equity, etc., etc.

After what I thought was a good eye-opening conversation, one of the adults in the room dismissed the whole thing and lectured us all that “money doesn’t buy happiness”, and warned the youth not to focus so much on money as we had for the past 20 minutes. While I agree (and the research does too) that focusing exclusively on money and material things makes us more solitary and selfish, I have also seen the pain and struggles that our youth go through because of the lack of financial resources in their homes and communities. I have also seen poor money management cause extreme financial hardship and jeopardize entire families’ abilities to stay in their homes. There is a definite correlation between homelessness and lack of happiness. Be careful of simple bromides.

So, I was interested to read about a new study by two Princeton economists (Kahneman and Deaton) who claim to have discovered the threshold where money and happiness part ways.  They claim that the number is an annual income of $75,000. They aren't saying that you need to make that amount of money to be happy.  You can be happy at any level.  However, happiness seems to increase as income increases until you hit that number.  Once income increases above 75k there is no concurrent increase in reported levels of happiness. 

My suggestion then is, if you are making more than 75k per year, the excess doesn’t buy you any more happiness so why not donate it to Youth Mentoring Connection ;-). Of course, I’m kidding. This is more complex than that. There are differences in cost of living from one locality to another and one needs to plan for a secure future when income may drop and many other factors.  And I certainly know many very happy people who are making far less than $75,000. The important thing is to understand that once our basic needs are met we should be conscious of factors in play that cause us to overemphasize acquisition and material things and understand that life fulfillment will come from our participation in our shared humanity. You see, other studies indicate that forgoing the bigger house, fancy watch and status car in lieu of spending one’s money on things that bring ineffable rewards tend to lead to more positive feelings. True harbingers of happiness are more tied to being a part of something good, feeling respected, being in control of your life and having the love and support of friends and family.



Tony LoRe
CEO/Founder, Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis
Founder, Boarding House Mentors

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tony's Blog: "The next voice you hear...will be your own"

The struggle for teen agers is often described as the struggle to “find your voice”. When Jackson Browne sang those words at a fund raiser for our surfing program three years ago everything seemed to be in alignment. His was a voice of integrity that aligned with the integrity of our efforts to help marginalized youth heal from the traumas of their daily lives.

Sometimes I fear for the ways that our youth go about finding the words to describe life’s experience. Little plugs in their ears feeding them a constant stream of violent, misogynistic, homophobic rap messaging that they walk around for hours mimicking. It’s easy to sit in judgment of the music that young people listen to today. I do it all the time. (I even wrote my own rap about it.) But if we stop there we are simply complaining about a problem and doing nothing to help solve it. What are we doing to change the hopelessness that pervades their lives and encourages them turn to such forms of expression? Every curse word is a cry for recognition and acceptance.

Some of us dream of leaving a more hopeful narrative regarding the possibilities of life to our youth and culture. One such person is Jackson Browne, music idol for five decades now, who decided at some point to offer his talents in a way that could help leave this world better than he found it. So he began offering his gifts to causes that he believes in.

YMC's Jovan freestylin' with Jackson Browne
A few years ago, an organization that I co-founded, Boarding House Mentors, which teaches inner—city youth to surf reached out to him. I knew that this man was ‘for real’ when he showed up at an event we were holding to check us out before giving us an answer. This wasn’t for his public image. He really wanted to help causes that he could believe in. I remember looking over at our silent auction tables and doing a double-take. I turned to one of my board members and said: “that’s Jackson Browne” over at table 5! We approached him and had a soulful conversation where he mentioned that he had seen an LA Times article about us and was impressed with what he read. He ended up taking the stage and then, in a moment that I will always remember he invited our young people to come up on stage with him. There they were, two of the youth that I now dedicate my life to as they rapped with Jackson Browne playing back up. The show ended with over twenty hip-hop generation youth jamming to the music of my youth brilliantly and extemporaneously fused with a contemporary beat (reminding us that it all comes from the same source). They had no idea that their back-up band was a multi-platinum, award winning, Rock N Roll Hall of Fame legend. But what they do know on sight is ‘authenticity’ and Jackson Browne is the real thing…and that was a real moment when young people, who are too often given the message that 'there is no place for you here', were invited to take their place at center stage.

Jackson Browne is at it again. He has offered his own form of genius in a private acoustic performance this October to help Youth Mentoring Connection raise funds to promote our Urban Oasis for youth.

So, please lend your voice to our cause. Think about how you can share your gifts to help young people struggle for the dignity of their lives. If you have been blessed with some success in life, give back so that others may have a chance for the same. If you have been blessed with financial success, please consider passing some of that on by supporting our upcoming “Evening Under the Stars” with Jackson Browne. These are hard times for the youth we serve and we need all the help we can get to assist them to find their voice.

To get tickets for the performance with Jackson Brown, or to simply support our efforts click here.

“everyone I know, every where I go...
People need some reason to believe”
Jackson Browne


Tony LoRe
CEO/Founder, Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis
Founder, Boarding House Mentors

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

Possible Reform But in the Wrong Place
Read about the potential new format for standardized testing and what it really means.

Enjoy your long weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Possible Reform But In The Wrong Place

California Joining Efforts to Overhaul Student Testing

Ideally, standardized testing produces results that demonstrate the learning that has occurred on behalf students throughout the year. In an ideal world, standardized testing would serve as a great asset to identify student’s strengths and weaknesses but unfortunately, many times, the tests are not reliable sources.

One of the many reasons why standardized testing does not work in favor of the students is because it does not account for the small improvements students make throughout the academic year. For instance, a student can begin the 4th grade at a 1st grade reading level and by the end of the year be reading at the level of a 3rd grader. This improvement would not be accounted for in the standardized testing done at the end of the year because the student would be tested at a 4th grade level and their results would be poor. If these same results are used to "grade" and "review" teachers then there's a problem and unfortunately this is the reality of too many inner-city and low-income students and teachers.

The proposed new format for standardized testing would be computer based and very much like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). In this test, the computer is basing its next question on your previous response. For example, if you answer correctly several times consecutively the questions get harder and harder. Conversely, if you answer incorrectly the questions get easier. Such format is argued to keep teachers from teaching the exam because they will not know what will be asked on the exam as it will not longer be in scantron form.

The main question is, will the new format of this $330 million exam provide any beneficial results? Or will it just be another way to show case the poor academic performance that exists in the California educational system?

I would argue that instead of focusing energy on changing the format of an exam whose content has proven to be culturally irrelevant to many low-performing groups, time and money should be spent on resources and training that would allow students to perform well no matter what the format of the test it.