Monday, December 30, 2013

LAMAR BANKS STORY – Journey with Youth Mentoring Connection

Lamar Banks grew up in South Central LA in an area that was highly gang-oriented.  He like a large number of young men from that community never knew his father and was raised by a very tough and strong-handed mother and grandma.  Lamar, at 13 years of age found himself being influenced to join a gang in order to survive.  So he and the guys in the neighborhood that he grew up with decided to form a “set” called Fo Block. (A set is a subset of a gang).  Lamar being a big, strong kid was designate to be the enforcer for the gang.  What he and the others weren’t told is that when you are a part of a gang, it doesn’t make you safer.  Instead it does the opposite.  It puts a target on your back and puts you in greater danger.  It was around this time that he also found out about YMC’s mentoring program through some of his friends who had gotten involved with their work.
When Lamar started YMC’s mentoring program, he was not doing well, barely interested in school or even attending much.  YMC found him a mentor that was the perfect match.  They started breaking his shell.  There were some improvement but the peer pressure that kept him involved in the gang was a huge roadblock.  Then at one of YMC’s yearly boy’s initiations on the Big Bear Mountains, part of the Fo Block gang came up with various weapons and were gang banging on the other youth.  Because of Tony and YMC’s deep, powerful and transformation work that they do at this 4-day youth initiation which supplements the mentoring work that they do on a daily basis with their youth, the gang ended on the mountain that weekend.   There was much follow up work to do when they came back to LA so these youth could keep their promise to each other and their community but with YMC’s help, Lamar and the other members of “fo block” did just that. 

Now Lamar became a deeper part of YMC’s community and started really getting into the mentoring.  He did better in school, yet still had a lot of catching up to do.  He felt really proud of himself because he was making it although it was challenging.  The day came when he was finally graduating from High School.  His family was so proud.  They had even bought him a new suit to wear.  Then a couple of days before the ceremony, he was informed by the school that he would not be walking the stage with the rest of his classmates.  He had not passed the California High School Exit Exam and they did not get the results for him to retake until now.  Lamar was devastated because he had worked so hard. 

When Lamar told YMC about his situation, they decided to create a graduation ceremony for him because they wanted to honor how hard he had worked.  They had seen his commitment, his transformation and were proud of him.  So they told Lamar of their plans.  They asked him to choose a restaurant that he and his family would like to go to after the YMC graduation ceremony for him.  He picked Cheese Cake Factory at the Grove.  So on that day, they headed to the restaurant only expecting his immediate family.  However, when they got there, not only had his family turned out, but at least 20 people from his community showed up as well.  For them, Lamar represented a young man who had made it.  He was an example to those people of what was possible – a symbol of hope in a community where most don’t make it. 

YMC ended the evening with their traditional “Gift Circle” where each person expressed the gift they saw in Lamar as his family watched with tears of pride in their eyes.  To this day, Lamar said that this was the best night of his life.  He later took the California HS Exit Exam, passed and went on to East LA College for 2 years where he played football.  Lamar has stayed a part of the YMC mentoring community, helping mentor other youth and become Coach Banks for a local youth football team.  Just this year, he got accepted and transferred to the University of Hawaii where he is studying Kinesiology and plans to be an Athletic Performance Trainer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tip for Mentors: Help Someone Heal. Reach Out to Cure the Holiday Blues

We’ve been hearing from some of our mentors and mentees about the different issues that young people experience during the holidays when they see everyone else seemingly happy and in the holiday spirit while they’re experiencing negative emotions with their family or home situation. 
So, though you just heard from us, we thought this would be helpful!

Reach Out to Cure the Holiday Blues
During the holidays we tend to get busy and spend less time with our mentees as our focus turns to our immediate families and our holiday preparation and trips.  This, however, is also a time when many of our mentees feel a sense of longing for the kinds of family love that they see portrayed in the media but may not be getting at home.  Children often are reminded of the losses they have experienced and the difference between their life and Ozzy and Harriet type fantasies. 
“Holiday blues" range from mild sadness during the holidays to severe depression.  Real medicine for holiday blues is knowing that someone cares about you.  If you’re feeling holiday blues, you can give yourself some healing by reaching out to your mentee.  Even if they don’t respond the way you want, you can know that you did something
So, please try to stay in contact with your mentee during the time between now and the New Year. 
o   A simple phone call from their mentor is a big statement that someone cares. 
o   Doing something special with your mentee is even more powerful when you are able to make the time. 
o   Don’t forget to send your mentee a Holiday card. 
o   If you go somewhere special during the holidays, perhaps you can send a postcard to your mentee.
o   A caveat: Try to resist the temptation of giving expensive gifts to your mentee.

 Finally, all of us at Youth Mentoring Connection are privileged during the holidays to witness thousands of caring relationships.  You can’t beat that for holiday warmth and cheer.