Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Reminder of Why We Do What We Do

It’s a beautiful day in Burbank at the Warner Bros. studio lot. As we walk with mentees towards the main entrance for their one-on-one mentoring session with employees from Warner Bros., we pass by a big group of devoted fans waiting to get into the Ellen DeGeneres Show. It’s quite the scene to see so many excited audience members anxiously waiting to get in.

We cross the street and wait for the other half of the mentees to meet us. As we wait, the mentees begin to get comfortable by leaning on the rail or just engaging in several different conversations. Some of the young people begin to raise their voices as their conversations get exciting and we kindly remind them to be conscious of their surroundings. After a short while of waiting, a Warner Bros. employee comes out and tells us to wait across the street because we are congesting the main entrance and we are disrupting other employees.

His reasoning was completely understandable. It is not often you see a group of black and brown teenagers at Warner Bros. studios and for many, it can be intimidating to have to cross paths with them. Although I’m sure he did not have negative intentions, I wonder if he knew what that message sounded like to those young people. The black and brown young people who have the privilege to visit the Warner Bros. are also the same young people who are constantly followed inside convenience stores; they’re the same ones who are silenced by teachers and administrators; and more importantly, they’re the same young people who society tells “you do not belong.” The man’s message was clear and made complete sense, but because of the delivery, it was just another reminder that these young people just do not belong in that space.

The opportunity that Warner Bros. gives these young people is amazing. Ultimately, they are allowing them into the world of corporate entertainment. Instead of getting the message that they don’t belong there, they get “welcome, and how can we see you (and help you see yourself) in a more positive way”.  Indeed, the mentors in the program see the mentees and all the gifts they carry. Now, how do we as conscious individuals help others see young people in a positive light the way their mentors at Warner Bros.? My only response to that is to keep doing the work that we do. Only then can the change happen and perhaps others will join us.

Hmm. I wonder if we can invite that guard to sit in on one of our sessions.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Dayna & Maurice

“I feel good coming to mentoring and I want to thank you for everything that you did for me. You mean a lot to me. I had a lot of fun going to the movies. I want to thank you for being my mentor because you took Micheal’s place when I needed a mentor. I changed because I like talking about what I’m going to do when I get out of school.”


CHLA JR I Trust Walk/Fall

Mentors and mentees does various activities based on trust. This is a time where mentors and mentees realize how important trust is in a relationship.

Monday, March 28, 2011

In A Dark Time Look to the Poet

I have been finding it more difficult to blog lately as the events of the world lay heavy on my soul; the inequities I see all around; the absurd and expanding wealth of a few contrasted by the extreme hunger and pain of so many, perpetuated by too many lies and too much fear.

...and I don't want to fill these pages with simple lamentations about the conditions of the world when there is also beauty and hope to be found.

Some medicine arrived this morning: my good friend Alan Cohen sent this poem by the Nigerian poet Ben Okri. It reminds me how much the poetic voice can carry one through hard times and make sense of the often unbearable. Poets remind us that our souls are stronger than our circumstances and that when we are not sure where to turn, we can always turn to our imagination...and to the poet to wake up the imagination in us.

It also reminds us that our wounds are the fertile ground in which we may plant the seeds of our highest destiny.

An African Elegy
We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.
There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things
And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.
That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.
And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here
And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.
- Ben Okri

Thanks Alan for spreading the gift of poetry.



PS Thanks also to Heather and Ruby for the poems that you sent to me and all of our mentors and my fellows in this work. There is nourishment all around.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
- Lao-tzu

My journey began as a joke. “Maybe I’ll do the marathon!” I said when YMC became an official charity of the Los Angeles Marathon. Everyone in the room laughed, knowing full well that those words would never be uttered with any kind of real intention. The seed was planted however, and before I knew it, I was up at 5:30am THE MORNING OF MY BIRTHDAY registering for the Roadrunners.

That first morning we did 3 miles, and I thought – “I got this!” and for the next 6 months, I showed up every Saturday morning at the crack of dawn, at the flagpoles on Venice beach and found out that I didn’t have anything! Just the stubbornness not to give up! I also discovered a brand new world. Hundreds and hundreds of masochists - I mean runners, and walkers invaded the streets before the break of dawn. They high-fived, whistled, sang, and rooted for each other. A moving, bouncing, fluid, graceful, sweaty community of marathoners in training took over the boardwalk, the Santa Monica Pier, and the surrounding streets. It was awe inspiring.

I felt pain in places I forgot I had! Shin splints? Really? Every week there were new blisters on different places on my feet. Why are my toes numb? You would have thought that I had lifted a bus my back ached so much. And the topper was when I went to get my monthly mani-pedi, and my girl Lisa says to me, “are you running or walking a lot?” Surprised, I asked her how she knew, and she pointed to my blackened toe-nail…. I am officially a part of the club! I am losing my toe nail!

There have been many firsts since starting this adventure. Seeing the sun rise over the Ferris wheel on the pier, discovering that athletic fashion can be cute, inhaling deeply because I could, and oh yeah – I DID A MARATHON!!!! 26.2 miles.

The one thing I prayed for was a cool, nice day. The universe had different plans…. Apparently the plan was to prove that indeed it does rain in Southern California. And not a refreshing little sprinkle – noooooooo - we are talking MONSOON type rain! Sheeting, stinging, whipping rain for 26.2 miles, and in my case – for 7 hours and 9 minutes. It literally started raining as we were approaching the first mile marker and it did not stop! Not for one single solitary second did it let up…. At first I thought it was kinda fun… but after a couple of hours all I could say was “Seriously??????”

Becky, good friend, mentor, and fellow marathoner gave me some tips she had used to get through the 10 other marathons she had run, and the one that spoke to me was to dedicate each mile to some one or something, so I did. Every couple of miles I would look at my list – This one is for Debrah, this one is for my niece Alexa, my nephews, Simon, Theo, Bryson, this one is for my sobriety, this one is for Derry, this one is for my mentors, this one is for Tony, this one is for my smoke free lungs, this one is for my mentees, this one is for Olivia and as I turned the corner on Ocean for the last ¼ mile and I saw the finish line – this one is for ME! And I started – yup, you guessed it – bawling!!!!! I had done it!!!!! Too cold to feel anything but exhilaration, I bowed my head to receive my medal.

If I had started this epic journey thinking about the 26.2 miles, I couldn’t have done it. Instead I took it one step at a time. I did what was in front of me. Nothing more, nothing less. And I did it because the amazing people in my life believed I could – so I believed I could. Huh – kinda like mentoring… Imagine that! You believe so I believe. Believe this – never again. Done and done… MMMM I wonder what my next initiation will be?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Linda & Yvonne

"Besides being an amazing person and being the person who could guide me in the time I needed her the most. She became a part of my family and one of the greatest gifts ymc has ever given me.She loved me and helped me. She was there for me and allowed me to grow and I learn to be open to new experiences and to play full out. That is why I can see myself".


Monday, March 21, 2011

CHLA Senior I Mentor-Mentee Pact

Mentors and mentees make their agreements for the next 9months.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Urban Oasis Film Academy Screening - Expressive & Evocative Youth Voices

 “Will you see me as a vital, creative human being deserving of a place in this society, or a teenager from the hood to be ostracized or feared?”
On Saturday we premiered eight short films of young people from our Urban Oasis Film Academy.  The room was packed and the youth did a fantastic job of creating expressive evocative short pieces.  They received a standing ovation from all in attendance.  
Their works were largely autobiographical and unfinished, leaving the viewer with a bittersweet sense of unease and hope at the same time.  It was as if they were saying: 
“I am a work in progress.  
The script of my life is being written every day. The conditions within which I find myself need not define me, but I’m still struggling to determine which way to turn.”  
When we recognize them and validate their creative expression we are giving them a message that if they turn toward light there will be support.  At YMC we also recognize that when they fall into the darkness of their wounds, we must be there as well.  That’s how you help youth.  By “seeing” their gifts and caring for their wounds.  In the movies when they want to depict a battle-hardened warrior they give him a visible wound as testament that something has been endured and overcome and this person will never be the same again.  On Saturday our young people displayed gifts by giving us a brief peak (sometimes just a hint) of their wounds.  I see those films as the scars that give testimony to their present and future greatness.
The Urban Oasis Film Academy
respectfully submitted,
Tony LoRe
Founder/CEO, Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

PS Thanks to HBO, the California Consumer Protection Foundation and our program partner Street Poets for helping to make this all possible!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday's Follow-Up

Read the words of one of our very talented mentees as he expresses his frustrations and aspirations for our society regarding the state of our education system.

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee - Karen & Verena
Verena thanks her mentor Karen for always showing her she cares and being supportive.

Read about why national service programs like Public Allies should be saved and how you can help!

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Agueda's Thoughts: Save Service!

Youth Mentoring Connection saves lives. Many people know that from participating in our programs, and going to our events. But there are two very important entities that make such work possible; first, the young people YMC serves and second, the staff members who do the work. This year, over 40% (including myself) of YMC's staff members come through a national public service program called Public Allies – Los Angeles. Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program, is a 10-month fellowship that focuses on creating young leaders for the non-profit sector. The allies are placed at a non-profit where they work full-time, they take classes at a local community college, attend trainings, participate in service days and create/implement their own team service projects. 

Public Allies changed MY life. I joined Public Allies in hopes of being part of space where I could learn more about the non-profit sector and what it takes to be effective in the community. Public Allies turned out to be way more than that.  I became part of a space in which I was encouraged to work on myself, to be self-reflective and practice self-awareness. I gained vital skills and tips to be able to work in a group effectively; I became informed and knowledgeable about an area of Los Angeles that I was a stranger to; but more importantly, I gained the emotional maturity that allowed me to understand and deconstruct my own process and view of the world. 

I can go on for days about how much Public Allies has impacted my life but overall, I just feel extremely privileged to be a part of this program. Without Public Allies I would not be able to do a lot of the work that I am currently doing. I have become a resource for young people who are over looked by our society. My experience has been one of a kind and I would hate for future applicants to be robbed of this experience. The existence of this amazing program is now being threatened by Congress. Public service programs are facing budget cuts and possible elimination nation wide. I ask you to call your Senators on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 and urge them to SAVE SERVICE!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Karen & Verena

"I want to thank Karen for always having my back and helping me through all my drama. I also want to thank her for being that positive role model I needed in my life and for helping me stay on the right track. Also, thanks for just loving me and showing me you cared".


Monday, March 7, 2011

The Rhymes of a Discriminated Student - Wake Up America!

I always have a lot to say about how our culture leaves youth behind and how our education system is inherently discriminatory.  However, I have never put it quite so eloquently as our young man Elmer Reyes.  Here he offers his firsthand account as a student in South Central Los Angeles.  Listen to his mix of gratitude, recognition and intelligent anger as he cries out to all of us to become heroic teachers, mentors and a more just society.

The Rhymes of a Discriminated Student

There is a huge epidemic in the United States.
The achievement gap shows the devastating rates.
The statistics are staggering, it has to change.
The system is corrupted, it’s not the same.
The poor minority students think it’s a game.
African American and Latino students don’t find it strange.
But all the schools in urban cities compare a cage.
Keeping students confined like if they’re insane.
That’s what gets most of them enraged.
And leads to high school dropouts that didn’t graduate.
If only teachers knew how to motivate.
Instead of teachers who discriminate.
To give students a chance and communicate.
There would be more students to educate.

As the white, middle class, majority students succeed.
Urban city students roam the streets.
Not caring about a high school diploma or a college degree.
Causing the achievement gap to increase.
What type of solution does it take to make the gap decrease.
The one that has teachers actually teach.
To show students something they’ve never seen.
To make their dreams a reality.
And they can be what they want to be.
If only teachers had this ability.
Then the achievement gap would be filled with tranquility.
And have both majority and minority students in universities.

Urban city schools have so many problems.
People have to find away how to solve them.
Like one of my teachers that was involved in
After school programs where students would taunt him.
But slowly gained their respect and then brought them
Books that he would give and then taught them
How to get good grades in school projects.
He motivated and pushed them to accomplish.
A high school diploma that he promised.

My teacher had the skill to communicate
With minds that were hard to educate.
This is a solution that can make change.
If only there were more teachers that were the same
The achievement gap would have never been made.
I’m sure this solution will even out the rates.
That have been made and claimed
Throughout the United States.
Imagine all of the graduations.
Caused by teachers that had communication.
That stayed after school with dedication.
And gave urban city students inspiration.
And let them see that success comes from education.
That knowledge is power there should be no hesitation.
All the teachers need the communication.
To give urban city students motivation.
 Elmer Reyes

Thanks Elmer for sharing your voice with us and reminding us of our responsibility toward the education of all youth.

Elmer and his Mentor Jeff at Warner Bros.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My First Marathon EVER!

Since September: “Friday nights” are nonexistent. I wake up on Saturdays at 5:30am (sometimes at 6:20, but don’t tell my pace group!). I’ve ran 20 miles, and relieved when I only need to run 7. I’m 10 pounds lighter, and slightly obsessed with running clothes.

I never thought I would run a marathon, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to help raise money for Youth Mentoring Connection, which is where I work and have met amazing people who I consider family. Now more than ever, YMC needs your help to continue running life-saving programs.

I've been a Program Coordinator at YMC for the last 3 years, and I’ve witnessed powerful transformations with the young people we serve all over Los Angeles. Shy kids come out of their shell. Young men learn how to channel their frustrations into something positive and realize they can have a bright future. With proper guidance and support, young women recognize they can overcome their circumstances and want more for their lives. Our mentees feel safe to let us see them for who they are and know that they will not be judged. At YMC, we create a community where mentees can be seen for the gifts they posses.

I understand times are tough, but I need your help to raise money so that my coworkers and I can continue to saves lives. No amount is too small or too large! If all you can donate is $5, I’d really appreciate it. If you have the opportunity to give more, like say $1 for every mile I run/walk, that would be great! And you know if you have an extra $100 lying around, you will have an extra special place in my heart!

I’m proud to say that 95% of our mentees graduate from high school and continue their education; our mentees come from the most disadvantaged schools in the country with graduation rates as low as 27%. With a statistic like that, you know we’re doing something right! Please help us out!

To donate, please visit my fundraising page:

Or you can mail your check to:
1818 S. Western Ave. Suite 505
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(please specify that your check is for Crystal Cedillo, LA Marathon)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

CHLA SR I Matching

Here are your new matches for CHLA Senior I cohort!

CHLA JR Fantasy Island

Mentors and mentees draw out their neighborhoods and share what's similiar and different in their neighborhoods. After, mentors and mentees would create an ideal world they would want to live in together.

Adams Grande Family Night

Family night is an opportunity for the mentor to meet their mentee's family and to hear from the family members themselves on how thankful they are for mentoring.