Monday, January 31, 2011

When you don't feel like you're doing enough...

It is the daily efforts, one by one, of caring people that turn into movements that end up changing the world. The recent events in Egypt didn't spring up over night even though it seems that way. There have been many voices connecting one by one to other voices, adding their messages to the collective consciousness until a tipping point is achieved.

So it is with the work we do. We are creating a movement toward a more conscously compassionate society that understands our responsibilities towards all youth, but especially those in less fortunate circumstances.

So, in another of the unending magical serendipities that we witness between mentors and mentees I receive this story from Ros, our mentor at Warner Bros. (who was featured in last Wednesday's blog as well). It serves as a reminder to all of us when we feel that our individual efforts are not enough.

"Zena told me one day about how she and her friends found a stranded starfish on the beach and saved it by throwing it back into the ocean. She was really pleased with herself and made a big deal of telling me about it. At Christmas I was telling my mum about the difference in Zena and what she wrote for me at Christmas about how I make such a big difference in her life. My mum then produced a card she had recently bought about making a difference and said I had to read it... I couldn’t believe what it was about (you’ll see!) so I...mounted it to make a card for Zena’s birthday. She was blown away by it and the coincidence."  This is what it said:

One day, as a wise man was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

"Sometimes we feel like we are not doing enough. I think we can never do enough but I think this card shows that if you just help one person and that’s all you ever do, then at least it’s enough for that one person. Just look at how many people you’ve helped to make that difference!"

humbly,
Tony
CEO/Founder, Youth Mentoring Connection

Make a difference.  Change Two Lives!  Become a mentor!

Friday, January 28, 2011

CHLA JR Family Night



Mentors get a chance to meet the families of the Mentees and learn about how they are a significant part of a mentee's life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Journey Through Mentoring.


I thought I was still young at 37, that is until met Zena, my 17 year old mentee with multi- colored hair and multiple piercings, having volunteered for the WB mentoring program. As it turns out, I don’t have a clue what goes on in a 17 year old’s life, especially one from South Central LA, who’s afraid to go out after dark because of the gangs and who’s not even sure what nationality her father is, let alone who he is. Her 9 year old sister has a different father and he’s not around anymore either. Her Guatemalan mother works all hours in a factory to make ends meet and when she had cancer a few years ago, Zena took care of her and her young sister.

The situation for all the other kids in the program isn’t much different, some of them have even been in gangs but have managed to get out, sometimes like David at the cost and sadness of leaving their family hundreds of miles behind to keep them safe. Apparently it’s no myth of the danger of trying to leave a gang.

Birthdays are celebrated as an achievement, some don’t expect to see the next one. Isn’t this the stuff we just watch on the TV?

I had no idea what to expect from the program, I certainly had no idea it would make me laugh and cry as much as it did. The kids are encouraged to find their voice through various group activities, sometimes fun activities, sometimes serious. You can’t believe the contrast between their humor and spark through the fun activities and their vulnerability in the serious ones. We watched one of the strongest and most entertaining personalities, Marcus, a 6ft tall young black man, hang his head and describe how small he felt as he tried to apologize for accidentally bumping into somebody, but they just called him a nigger and hurled plenty more verbal abuse at him. I don’t think I can describe in words the atmosphere in the room as he relayed this incident and just how worthless it made him feel. Usually he had us in stitches but this day he had me in tears.

As for Zena, there was just something about her that made me want to get to know her and so I was very pleased when we were matched. As it turns out, she really wants to play the violin and loves to listen to classical music to de-stress. I play the violin and have a degree in classical music. We also found out more recently that we share the same Aquarius star sign so it seems we were drawn to each other somehow.

But now what? After a few group sessions, we started one-on-one sessions. This is where we could spend much more time getting to know each other but she soon stopped showing up to sessions. Since we only met every other week, a month could go by with little or no contact.

Then one Saturday we had agreed to spend the afternoon together. It wasn’t the first time we were meeting outside of the program, it wasn’t the first time I slightly nervously drove into South Central to pick her up, or the first time I got to see her gangland neighbor’s work on the building opposite – the name of their gang in 6ft high lettering sprawled across a warehouse wall. The artistry is actually quite impressive, if only they would put their talent to something more worthwhile.

However, this time she wasn’t there, and wasn’t answering her phone, or my knocking at the door (whilst the neighbors looked on wondering what the white girl was doing hanging around these parts). I waited for a while but after no sign gave up and went home. I was relieved when she showed up to the next session but this was a group session (group sessions and one-on-one session are alternated throughout the program) so we didn’t have much time to talk. But fortunately this was the poetry writing session where street poets come in to give guidance on poetry writing.

Everybody writes a poem before those that are brave enough are encouraged to read them out, cue more tears as the kids read out their heart wrenching stories. I will never forget Kike, another big strong young man who blew his heart open and ran out of the room in tears as he finished reading. Witnessing this, we were left to wipe away our own tears and pick up our jaws off the floor after tough guy Kike finished relaying the struggles and disappointments of his life in a few hundred powerful words.

Incidentally, Kike just graduated from high school - something he didn’t expect to do a few years ago.

I took my opportunity to write my poem about Zena and how I was feeling and my frustration at her “testing” of me, how I just wished she believed I really was there for her. This turned out to be our turning point. When we were asked to hand all the poems in at the end, she handed her own in but kept mine.

I think Zena expects to be let down. One of the things she told me was that she didn’t expect me to show up that particular Saturday I went to pick her up. Her father has never tried to have anything to do with her and her last mentor left the program to have a baby. Zena is very mature for her young years and understands that her last mentor had other important priorities and it wasn’t that she didn’t care. But I think from experience she expects to be let down whether it can be helped or not.

In the last few minutes of the poetry session as we were all saying goodbye, I rather sternly pointed out to her that I was committed to this and that it took both of us to be committed to get anything out of it. She was holding a couple of cookies at the time and just looked up and meekly said “cookie?” as she proffered said cookies in my direction. I took that as an apology for her absenteeism and she’s never let me down since.

Now that she was showing up, we got to talk more and this is when I began to realize just how little I know of what goes on in a 17 year old’s life. I literally don’t understand most of what she tells me, especially about school. It probably doesn’t help that I was brought up in England in a completely different system. She’s into music and so am I. I thought working for a record company before WB would help here but apparently not - the only band she likes that I know or have even heard of is Daft Punk, and even they are getting old now!

Something we definitely have in common is our sweet tooth so I started bringing her different chocolate treats from England which she loved. In return, one day she presented me with an all American bar of Hershey’s milk chocolate. I was more touched by the thoughtfulness of the gesture than she probably realized.

Zena loves film and would love to be an actress so when we manage to meet outside of the program, I try to take her to the movies. We went to see Toy Story 3 at El Capitan which she loved. Afterwards they had the extra entertainment where you could meet the characters or play games related to the movie. Zena decided she wanted a picture of us sat on an oversized armchair. As she handed her camera to an agreeable passer by, she turned to me and said “look cool.”

Those words struck instant panic in me. I’m just not cool. And I don’t have multicolored hair which puts me at an instant disadvantage. She struck up a funky pose whilst I crossed my legs, uncrossed them, leant against the arm of the chair and generally felt as awkward as possible. The picture was taken anyway. Zena looks cool. I don’t. In fact, we look like chalk and cheese but somehow we still manage to make a connection.

Some mentors have trouble getting more than a few words out of their mentee. We don’t have that problem, the only problem I have is the trouble in understanding most of what she tells me! She knows this but she also knows I keep listening anyway and I keep asking questions to try and better understand. I found out at the end of the program that this was very valuable to her. I don’t think there are as many people in Zena’s life that have time to really listen as there are in mine.

Taking part in the mentoring program is not always easy. I had a lot of doubt that I could do it, especially when Zena wasn’t showing up - I thought she must not like me and I didn’t know what to do about it. Her phone was constantly disconnected and she had little access to email so communication was very hard but now every time she gets connected again, she is the one to get in touch and I just trust now that she will be in touch when she can. This is big progress for us.

The program is so rewarding, especially when you hear that only about 24% of kids graduate from high school on average in their area but of those that take part in this program, 92 to 100% graduate - it just shows how far a little bit of encouragement can go to motivate them, as well as seeing a world outside of their world. There are those at the start that are so shy they can barely look you in the eye to say hello, but by the end they find the courage to speak to the whole group even though you can see they are still scared and still finding it difficult to speak with confidence, but at least it’s a first step and for them, it’s a huge one.

We are just beginning the next program and I’m very happy that Zena is back as she starts her final year of high school – I can’t wait to see her graduate and I have no doubt that she will. I’m excited to really start to get to know her. The last program seems like it was really only an introduction. This year she has declared that she is going to teach me how to be cool. In return, I will try to be a good student - but mainly, I just want to be there for her.

Rosalind - mentor to Zena

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Odyssey - Haiku Writing 1.12.11




The end of the year provides the opportunity to look back, review, and reflect. The beginning of a new year provides the opportunity to look forward and invite into our lives the things that will make us fulfilled.In this session the mentees received the opportunity to write a Haiku as a medium for expression.With the help of their mentors the mentees wrote about some of the goals and plans they want for the year.

Game of Life


At the Paramount mentoring Program, the returning mentees played the game of Life with their mentors

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Isabelle & Melissa


"I want to thank you for taking the time to share important moments with me and listening to me. I knew you cared because you helped me with the problems I had by giving me advice and making me try new things".

-Melissa

WB Haiku: Jan. 18, 2011




On this Session the Mentees recieved an opportunity to work with their Mentors to create Haiku's about their lives, about some of the goals and new plans for this year. It is a perfect activity for YMC youth to open up and share their dreams. Some of our shyest youth opened up during this session with the support of their Mentors and staff.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Generosity: How the kangaroo got her pouch

In an old Aboriginal story the life of a blind wombat is saved by a mother kangaroo, but the kangaroo almost loses her joey (child) while helping him. In gratitude, wombat (who is God in disguise) offers kangaroo a way to keep her joey close by—a pouch on her belly to carry him in. The kangaroo accepts and asks that the same gift be given to the other marsupials. “The one with a generous heart wishes to include others when good fortune comes her way.”

One of the blessings of this work is that we get to see so many different ways that generosity becomes manifest in this world. We constantly see those who have very little helping those who have even less. The families that take in homeless friends and relatives into already overcrowded homes. Quincea├▒eras, weddings and funerals become events where entire communities come together and share what little they have. In fact, most studies show that the working poor are the most generous people in America giving away about 4.5 percent of their income on average. This compares to about 2.5 percent among the middle class, and 3 percent among high-income families.
However, the story tells that the generous heart wants to share its good fortune. That’s the other side of what we see: Those who have attained much and their hearts seek to share from what they have. We have several of those folks on the Board of Directors of Youth Mentoring Connection, and many others who help support our work.

One such generous heart belongs to my sister Linda. She has been by my side since day one, generously giving of her time and her influence, as well as her pocketbook so that thousands of youth can have hope for a better life. She has become equally generous with family and friends. Over the years I have seen Linda carefully cultivating her generosity so that it is more than simple giving.

Generosity is not just something you do. It is a sacred practice that can be honed into an art form. The ultimate manifestation of the art of giving is in its impact upon the receiver, not just from the standpoint of the immediate benefit or reduction of suffering, but in the way it affects the spirit and the esteem of the receiver. If the receiver feels more whole and stronger as a result of the gift, then the giver has practiced the art in a life-affirming way.

Generosity
To the true artist
the world is her canvas
Her craft lives inside,
inspiration renewed with every breath
Generosity is art
She an artist
Like any good artist
constantly perfecting the gift
Working with nuance
Expanding creativity
Knowing that it is not the weight of the gift
but the artistry displayed
The transfer of love
The sharing of passion
Grace in giving
liberates the receiver
The gift is a word
a prayer
connection to the lonely
comfort to the afflicted
serenity to the fearful
Let tears cleanse the gift
Joy lifts the beneficiary
Generosity is the currency of love

Happy Birthday Linda


Linda LoRe, Tony LoRe, Debrah Constance

Monday, January 17, 2011

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools - MLK

A young woman is planning the funeral of her fianc├ę, instead of their marriage. A nine year old girl wanted to be inspired, but now her life has expired. A federal judge will now face his final judgment. These things blamed on what has been called a “senseless” act of violence by a crazed gunman at a supermarket in Arizona. I submit that it was not a senseless act but the inevitable reflection of a culture of hate speech and real violence.  Responsible sense will tell you that hate only engenders more hate. When you attempt to use fear-based rhetoric to gin up the populace you will succeed…and there is always someone unstable enough to embody all the collective vitriol and translate it into absurd and often deadly action. Don’t let it be lost that this is how the great American whose life we honor today lost that life at the hands of an assassin. In his own words:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1/15/29 - 4/4/68
 "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On this day, as our nation pauses to celebrate the legacy of Reverend King, let us pledge to adopt a more civil tongue, one modeled after his rhetoric which was designed to inspire us to our higher selves instead of motivating through our fears. In the face of ugly discrimination, the debasement of a people and hate spewed at him from every corner, Dr. King spoke of love and brotherhood, of hope and dreams.
Christina Green
 9/11/01 - 1/8/11

Now, in the wake of the tragedy in Tucson the question is being asked: can we come together and change the direction of our discourse in this country?  The cynic in me is doubtful, but the human in me can hope.  Thus, today as the nation celebrates the date of birth of one of it’s icons, let us not forget how Dr. King met his end.  Moreover, let us remember how he inspired with his rhetorical gift and pledge to work to increase the light, increase the love and increase compassion.  At the very least, let us begin to speak with more honesty, integrity and civility, lest we move one step closer to perishing together as fools.

Humbly,

Tony

Tony LoRe, CEO & Founder
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis


 



Friday, January 14, 2011

CHLA IV How Do You Like Me Now



Mentor/Mentee matches battle out to see how well they know each other.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Encourage a friend to become a mentor: January is National Mentoring Month



January is National Mentoring Month and our need for mentors has never been so strong. Our Adams and Childrens Hospital programs have waiting lists of youth that need a caring adult in their life. Please pass along the above flyer to anyone you know that might be interested.

Thank you.

-monk

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Samantha & Daylajane

“Samantha, thank you for being my mentor because when we are together we have lots of laughs. When I’m down you always make me feel better. Thanks for taking the time out and asking about my life problems, kids, family and so much more. I love the fact that we connect with each other. Every group session , we play games and we end up winning.lol  You make my day when I see you!! Your another person I can count on…It’s because of you that I have changed in ways like; taking school more serious, studying, and being a good person.

I love you Samantha! Your another best friend added to my heart!!!”

– Daylajane

Monday, January 3, 2011

When the song of the angels is stilled...


"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart."

Dr. Howard Thurman

Happy 2011

We return, restored and ready to do the vital work
that fills our lives with purpose. 
Please join us in healing Los Angeles and the world.

peace and blessings,

Youth Mentoring Connection

peace and blessings,

Tony