Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HBO Introductions 11.11.10

WB Matching Introductions 11.9.10

During this WB session each match got a chance to get to know each other better. Each match had to introduce each other and three things they learned to the rest of the group.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Monk & Luis

“Monk, well what can I say? There were only a few times we got together, but those times were the best. You are and always will be a close friend to me. Thanks for always being there for me. I will always be thankful for all your help and I will always keep in touch; let’s keep our friendship going and make it grow even bigger. I hope you also stay in touch.”

– Luis

CHLA Juniors I - Meet and Greet

Mentors and Mentees met for the first time for our Childrens Hospital Juniors I cohort.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Message: Gratitude is the heart’s memory

What My Heart Remembers

A suicidal boy choosing life and all that it can bring 
A young man stepping off the street and into the ring
The proud and wounded girl finding her light in strife
The man-boy banger choosing peace and giving up his knife
Six boys in a circle of 20 sharing how the banger saved their lives
An angel seeing who I am and agreeing to be my wife

She sat meditatively, sipping tea alone at the coffee bar
As I counseled the hurt and fearful girl from the phone inside my car
Our second date, I had shown up late and now this – not doing well so far
So I said I’m sorry and she replied. “Don’t apologize for who you are.”

Wounded men and wounded boys standing in our fears
Stripping down defensiveness so our souls can push out tears
Feeling buoyed by brotherly love when I feel my brother’s near
A sister’s pledge by oleander trees remembered after all these years

The knucklehead who claimed his gift and stood to end a gang
A hundred candles held up high as to the earth we sang
The young lady taking a chance on life to give my heart a tug
Folding back her hair to reveal the scar from papa's coffee mug
The young man sharing inner pain, the one they called a thug
The homie crossing a circle of men to risk a soulful hug

He held up a mirror to his pal risking the violence held inside
To see if finally the wounded pal could overcome hair-trigger pride
The elegance of men and boys who subdued the rage that would not hide
Fierce love met tears and rage from years of pain that would not die
Understanding grew because of hearts that knew stakes were way too high
We shared two broken hearts that day and sat locked eye to eye
The fatal gaze of gangster days and all the friends that lied
Gave way for a moment when love stepped in and rage was pushed aside

My heart holds so many more memories than I have rhymes:
The man who agreed to mentor me,
another who called me to this way of life
Friends, family and lovers who have helped shape me
My August (in both senses of the word) friends in Mendo

Enemies who showed me how strong I can be
The young people who call me "pops"
The men and women who stand next to me and offer their mentoring to youth
The young adults who give of themselves each day for such little pay so the youth and communities we serve can find some peace and healing
The Colombiana who bravely shares this path and my heart of service!

To you all, I offer a toast of Happy Thanksgiving from my heart’s memories.


Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I care about today - A Mentor's Story

A couple of months ago, The Today Show on NBC was having an essay contest that caught my attention. "What do YOU care about today?" They were asking people to submit essays about non-profit organizations that are doing great things in your community. I was inspired and immediately sprung into action because there was a $100,000 prize for the winner's organization! Unfortunately YMC was not selected to win this prize, but I believe my essay speaks to the many "prizes" I have been given by YMC. I feel like a winner.

Last October, I was fortunate enough to attend a retreat in the mountains for the mentoring organization I have been volunteering with for over five years. This retreat takes place every year and serves not only as a symbolic “rite of passage” for our youth, but also is an opportunity for them to get away from their South Central Los Angeles neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods where funerals have become social events and gunshots are as commonplace as crickets chirping in most neighborhoods. Many of these teens have never been to the mountains or the ocean even though they live less than 10-12 miles away from both. The retreat takes place about two hours away, so it gives them an opportunity to really escape for an entire weekend.

I attended the retreat with my mentee of nearly five years, Brittani, who had been selected to be a “youth leader”. Brittani was 15 when I first met her and already had unimaginable life experiences, including homelessness. Over the past five years, I have watched her develop into a mature and determined woman, I am tremendously proud of.

During the retreat, one of our facilitated sessions involved poetry writing. As a part of the exercise, we were instructed to write a poem in a specific format. The exercise successfully initiated very important discussions and revelations from the mentees, the staff and the volunteers. Below is the poem I wrote about what I cared about that day:

I knew a girl who was confused, scared and losing her path
I knew a girl who didn’t like school or express goals and seemed to lack dreams
I knew a girl who went through hard times at a very young age
I know a woman who has overcome these hard times
I know a woman who will not give up on her goal to finish high school
I know a woman who has blown me away with her new self-confidence and inspiration
I am thankful to have this woman in my life and this woman is Brittani

This is what I care about everyday. My experience volunteering with this organization has changed my life and inspired me more than I could have ever imagined. Twice a month we meet for both one-on-one sessions and facilitated group sessions where a community is formed. It gives the youth an opportunity to learn what “community” means and how they can use their gifts to contribute. They develop relationships with multiple adults who can support them in their struggles, dreams and future goals. Youth Mentoring Connection serves the youth of South Central Los Angeles by providing mentoring programs that keep youth out of gangs and greatly improve their chances of graduating from high school. Graduation rates for this population average below 50% every year, but 95% of YMC mentees graduate from high school. 90% of these graduates enroll in college or trade school. I nominate Youth Mentoring Connection because YMC and everyone involved is what I care about today…..and everyday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Daniela & Cinthia

"Hey! Thank you for all of the fun things we did together. I loved the Thai food we always ate. I loved going to the beach. I am so happy that you taught me how to make a pillow. I am so happy I was able to meet you and thank you for allowing my sister to come along so many times. I hope that everything goes well with your family and I hope I will see uou in Feb. so we can hang out more".

-Love, Cinthia

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving - Gratitude for Corn, the cause of immigration problems

The Pilgrims were the first uninvited immigrants to the United States. Ironically, they were poor and starving, having exhausted the food supply brought with them.  The natural citizens of this land, the Wampanoag tribe witnessed their plight. What the Wampanoag didn't do was worry that there wasn't enough for everyone. They didn’t adopt immigration policies or exalt the settlers to go back to where they came from.  Instead they observed the old human practices of welcoming and compassion. They taught the Pilgrims to fish the local waters and hunt native game and wild fowl, including the turkey, which they called "earth eagle".

So, in the fall of 1621 the Pilgrims adopted the native custom of holding a Harvest Festival, a three-day feast to celebrate the bounty of spring and summer. The festival took on a double meaning of gratitude as they not only thanked Mother Earth for the bounty, but the indigenous peoples for welcoming and teaching them.

That first Thanksgiving Dinner did not have cranberry jam, sweet potatoes or pumpkin pie. However it did most likely have corn - a grass domesticated by the Aztecs and Mayans of Mezoamerica that they called "maize".  It eventually made its way up to North America and the Wampanoag natives taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate maize along with beans and squash.

Now, in a cruel twist of fate U.S. agricultural policy has destroyed the Mexican corn sector by subsidizing American grown corn to the tune of over $10 billion a year. U.S. corn is then sold back into Mexico reversing 10,000 years of historic flow in the other direction. Poor Mexican farmers cannot compete against US producers. They and their workers are thrown further into poverty and desperately attempt to sneak across the borders to harvest our crops.

So, when these people attempt to cross back over into the lands they originally owned, instead of adopting the compassion that the Pilgrims enjoyed from the Wampanoag, we adopt a scarcity mentality fueled by the politics of fear. Fear that they are going to get what’s ours (which was originally theirs).

This Thanksgiving let’s replace fear with abundance. Let’s begin again to understand that our fate is intertwined with that of every other human on the planet. George Kent, author of Freedom from Want: The Human Right to Adequate Food argues that:

“Human rights do not end at national borders, and neither do the corresponding obligations... A child may have the misfortune of being born into a poor country, but that child is not born in a poor world. The world as a whole has the capacity to sharply reduce global hunger and malnutrition. It is obligated to do that.”

We knew this once. After WWII 85% of Americans, responding to a plea from President Hoover, agreed to the reinstatement of wartime rationing so that we could share our abundance with the rest of the world.

Americans are, by nature, an optimistic and compassionate people. If we could only learn to reject the divisive fear tactics that keep us subservient to wealthy interests we might begin again to believe in abundance, to understand that the world doesn’t have to be divided into winners and losers. Then we might someday be able to partake in a global celebration of Thanksgiving.

yours in gratitude,


Youth Mentoring Connection

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paramount II 11/16/2010

At the Paramount session matches interviwed one another and introduced each other to the group.

MTV/BET 11/17/2010

At the MTV/BET program session, matches participated in a family tree and whose coming to dinner worksheets. Matches shared with each other their internal and external families duing the family tree worksheet. As the year is getting close to the Holidays matches also shared who they would invite to dinner, what would the menu be and what activieties would they do.

Agueda's Thoughts: Empower

If people from all walks of life, economic status, color, gender, etc all work together, we can create the change that we all envision and need.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Geoff & Rahzah's Story

I am what you might call structurally challenged. I would rather sit through 6 hours of Algebra class than run an errand to Home Depot. If a light in my kitchen goes out, I would sooner grab a lamp from the living room than change the thing. And if that weren’t sad enough, the cruel Fates of Youth Mentoring Connection matched me with an engineering and science genius named Rahzah.

Several Christmases ago, when Rahzah had reached the ripe old age of 12, I decided to get him this impossible-to-build motorcycle, helicopter, monster truck combination thing. It was like Legos on steroids and just looking at the box filled me with anxiety. The box came with about 40 plastic bags filled with rubber bands, mini screwdrivers, lugnuts, and more widgets that I can’t pronounce. It was like giving a child an Ikea Living Room set and asking him to get to work. Strangely enough though, Rahzah loved his Christmas present. And I loved that Rahzah loved it, and I loved it even more that he thought I was cool enough to help him put this beast together.

So twenty minutes into our project, Rahzah looks over at the section I’m working on and says, “That doesn’t look right.” To which I respond, “What do you mean? I’m doing exactly what the directions tell me to do.” And he says, “Why are you using the directions?” Calmly, I try on my most didactic mentor voice and explain to Rahzah that, “The directions are important.” He laughs (a bit too loudly, I thought), grabs my section, and says, “Watch.” He then scatters the 5,000 microscopic pieces all over the Living Room, and I’m forced to sit there in horror as he puts together the motorcycle, takes it apart, then builds it again as a helicopter. Never once glancing at the directions!

I was humbled, I was in awe, I was proud. I left Rahzah’s house grateful to have this young man in my life and even more grateful that he was so patient with his slightly dim-witted mentor.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My New Mentor…the lady in apartment #6

My Dear Friends,

Let’s put down our anger for a moment. Let’s forget about how our parents messed us up; how our culture messed us up; how the Republicans and the Democrats messed us up; how we messed ourselves up and take a few minutes to allow an amazing woman to mentor us.

http://www.youtube.com/user/AliceTheFilm.  Turn your speakers on.

Alice could certainly be bitter or angry about what she had to endure in life. Her mother was killed during the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. She, her husband and son were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Her husband was moved to Auschwitz then Dachau where he died.

Alice swam daily until the age of 97. At 104, she published a bestselling book "A Garden of Eden in Hell" recalling the events of the concentration camps. Alice Herz-Sommer attributes her longevity to her optimism.

This month Alice will celebrate her 107th birthday. Happy Birthday Alice. Thanks for your birthday presence on this planet.

Peace and blessings,


Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Follow-Up

...Still Waiting for Superman
Check out Tony's blog and read about the responsibility that our society has to our young people.

CHLA III - "How Do You Like Me Now"
Check out the pictures from our Children's Hospital III session in which the mentors and mentees played a game to see how well they knew each other.

Tuesday with Mentor & Mentee- Zack & Andy
Andy expresses his gratitude for his mentor Zach.

WB Matching Bingo 10.19.10
Check out the pictures from our last Warner Brothers session in which the mentors and mentees found out who they would be matched with for the program year.

HBO Matching 10.28.10
Check out the pictures from our last HBO session in which the mentors and mentees found out who they would be matched with for the program year.

Agueda's Thoughts: Personal Agency
Read Agueda's blog and read about the importance of personal agency when it comes to dealing with the systems in place.

YMC's blog had a busy week! Thanks for reading!
Have a great weekend!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Agueda's Thoughts: Personal Agency

Los Angeles Teacher Ratings

It is a fact in my life that every individual has different needs; while many may be similar to each other, no two individuals can benefit equally from one potential solution. With this in mind, I struggle when I consider the many solutions posed by the government, law makers, and education experts on how to improve our education system. While true comprehensive reform is essential for the system as a whole, one cannot expect to have students from every level benefit equally from the changes. Considering that, it can be extremely overwhelming to think about how we are going to help every person who is part of such a huge system. It can be very easy to become discouraged when thinking about doing something to help; but accepting that you cannot save the whole world is a start. Beyond that, it is paramount to remember that your personal agency is far more powerful than you would like to believe.

I have had many conversations with people who wonder why I do the work that I do. Some people say, “You can’t save every young person and you can’t change the system so why bother?” I often would be offended that they did not see the world the way I did but how could they? If it is difficult to have one solution benefit two people equally, how could I expect to have another individual agree on all of my views and politics? I learned along the way that my purpose in having such discussions was necessarily to convince them to join my side but hope that there could be a third space we both could reach in which we would agree. I do not expect to have every person become an educator, a school principal, a superintendent, or have a career change and devote their lives to young people. What I do hope to do is to have every person acknowledge and tap into their personal agency.

Every person can do something to try and better this world. You do not have to be a law maker or part of a governmental entity to make an impact. The people that I work with and the mentors we bring all know that. We all know that having a simple conversation with a young person about why they skipped school or why they got into a fight can make a huge impact. It is difficult to balance the personal with the systematic but one does not have to be at the expense of the other. Every person who works on the macro level can still make an impact in a single person’s life by simply caring and if enough of these acts are done then the impact can be at the macro level as well.

So when learning about all the potential solutions that school districts and law makers are struggling to produce, do not get discouraged when realizing that they probably will not get it right, just think about what it is that you can do to impact a young person’s life. History has taught us that we cannot rely or expect those on top to solve all the issues in our communities especially because all laws cannot and do not have the same impact on all individuals within our society. Because of that, as socially conscious individuals it is our responsibility to embrace our personal agency and put it to use.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

HBO Matching 10.28.10

In this session the mentors and mentees found out who they will be match with for the rest of the year. Each mentor and mentee was given a phrase that they had to match by going around and asking if they had the other half of the phrase. In this session the matches also had a chance to get to know each other better by interviewing one another.

WB Matching Bingo 10.19.10

In this session the mentors and the mentees played a fun game of matching bingo. This game was composed of fun and crazy facts related to the mentors and mentees. At the end of the session they would discover who they have been match with.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Zach & Andy

"Zach I just wanted to say that this year has been hands down one of the greatest years of my life if not the greatest year of my life. You are my best friend and I wouldn’t have asked for anyone else to be my mentor and you take that to the bank. In all serious you are my bro wait…you’ve changed my life forever. I knew there were people like you out there but I never knew I would have the honor and the privilege to know to know someone like you who would hang out with me every Tuesday. You’re my best friend Zach and I hope you will always be there for me as I will for you".

Thanks Zach!


CHLA IV "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"

CHLA IV "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" Session. Mentors and Mentees talk about who they would want to invite to their Thanksgiving Dinner along with what type of dishes they would make and what type of activities they would like to have. Bon appetit!

CHLA III "How Do You Like Me Now"

CHLA III "How Do You Like Me Now" Session. Mentors and Mentees test to see how well they know each other.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mentors from Paramount Program visited their mentees at HelenBernstein High School.

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…Still Waiting for Superman.

Until then everyone else is the bogeyman. We have become a culture of accountability: that is, holding everyone ELSE accountable. It’s the bad teachers. It’s the uninvolved parents. It’s the self-involved youth. It’s the video games. It’s the media. If we can determine the right place to affix blame, then we don’t have to do anything about the problem ourselves.  So, the fingers point every direction but inward. 

The caller to the radio talk show suggests that we make a portion of each student’s grades dependent upon the parent’s participation in his school (attendance at parent/teacher conferences, etc.) The host thinks this is a great idea. I’m thinking that we have forgotten how to be a community. Old cultures understood that the well being of youth is a community responsibility and the fate of society depends upon it.

Many youth centers now have a requirement that parents participate in order for kids to maintain their membership.  While I support doing whatever we can to encourage parents to engage more fully in their kids’ lives, these measures serve to further marginalize many youth who need their community the most. The ones whose parents can’t or won’t step up. Then we wonder why we can’t solve the “gang problem” or why our society is becoming more polarized with a large portion of our population ignorant, unable to think for themselves and exploitable by fear tactics. Thus the American dream has become a nightmare to so many young people who have no place to turn.

I sit in conversations with our boys, who tell stories of absent fathers and abusive mothers. Reggie is telling his story of his mom’s abuses and his friend recalls seeing the boy’s mother punch him in the mouth in front of several other people. This gives Reggie the courage to finally tell his story. He recalls his mother telling him not to go to school, that he’s too stupid to learn anyway. Once he gets going, the stories tumble out one after the next. His mom cracking his head open with a bottle (I personally witnessed the damages from that one); having her boyfriend beat him up; guns pulled on him in his own house; coming home on his eighteenth birthday to see all of his clothing tossed out onto the front lawn and mom greeting him at the door to tell him he doesn’t live there anymore. I remember Alejandra telling us of how her grandmother beat her with a hose because she saw another girl disrespect her and Alejandra didn’t “throw down”.

What chance do they have? Well, Alejandra and Reggie will probably be okay, because they found a community to support them when their parents won’t, one that will understand and help them heal these deep wounds. They found Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis. We will give them the love and positive regard that they don’t get at home. Not because we are a clan of altruistic do-gooders, but because we remember what old cultures knew, that the first responsibility of community is to care for its youth, that the health of our collective soul depends on it. We will then have the moral authority to hold them accountable because we first hold ourselves accountable.
 But what about the thousands of other youth in the same situation that we haven’t reached yet. They will become the parents who abuse their kids because that’s all they were ever shown and they didn’t have a society willing to catch them as they fall through the cracks of abuse and neglect. The cycle continues. 

Unless we stop this cycle by becoming a conscious intentional society, taking responsibility for all of our youth, generations from now we will still be Waiting for Superman.

Youth Mentoring Connection dreams of an Urban Oasis...a campus-like setting in the heart of South Central where kids like Reggie and Alejandra can find the community of support that all youth need. 

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

with respect,

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