February 26, 2008

Mentoring Heroes and A Give-Away

Kilbarchan is the oldest continuously-operated residential facility for children in the United States, and is currently managed by YCS, Youth Consultation Service. It was established as an orphanage in 1831 and currently serves boys ages 12 to 17 years old, who are unable to live in their natural or foster homes.

A group of men in that community decided to become man-makers for the lost boys at Kilbarchan. I consider these men as some of the heroes doing this important work and I want to share their story. The following is from Greg Zimmer who is speaking for the group:

Six years ago, myself and a group of men from the Mankind Project got together to do some mission work at Kilbarchan, a local home for "troubled" young men ranging in age from 12-17. Most of the boys had been victims of some form of neglect or abuse and often were under rather heavy doses of medication.

The idea we had was to visit the boys monthly, and to be positive male role models for them. We usually brought a "program" or activity session of some kind. These included activities like picnic table building, basketball clinics, (legal) graffiti lessons, poetry night, astronomy night, magic shows, and much more.

The sessions were greatly enjoyed by the boys, but the most obvious result of the visits was how the boys looked forward to seeing the men. After one of our early meetings in which we all had a great time, one of the boys asked the men, “What took you guys so long to get here?” In six years, we’ve only missed one month and that was simply due to a scheduling conflict. The MKP men have become one of the most stable and dependable parts of the boys lives.

From the men's side, we often hear comments like, "nothing I've ever done has given me more of a feeling of accomplishment than when we bring some fun into these kid's lives…" or "this is what MKP mission work is really about."

In order to make it possible for other groups of men to create similar programs, I’ve put together a "template" that shows what we learned in our years at Kilbarchan and how we grew the program into its current form. I’d be happy to share that template if you contact me at the phone number or email below. We would welcome the opportunity to help anyone set up a similar program in their community.

Greg Zimmer – 973.427.8000 – email: zimmerind@aol.com

February 16, 2008

A New, Year-Long, Rite of Passage for Boys

When I speak to groups of men working with boys, whether it's in mentoring organizations, at churches or conferences, or just groups of men who want to do something for adolescent males, there is always the question of what to do with them. Often, the path that question takes is, how do we keep these guys entertained? While I think that's a fair question to ask, and indeed some fun is important, I think if a young male is on the brink of manhood, it misses the mark a little.

I feel that mixed in with some boy fun, there should be serious lessons about manhood and an opportunity to talk with men about the big issues in life. A few mentoring organizations approach that challenge head on, but it seems to me that too many of them leave it to chance. I'd like to propose the creation of a year-long rite of passage initiation, that is relevant to the times. A path that guarantees boys are exposed to some of the important issues and events that will impact and shape their lives.

I'm suggesting a monthly theme or event for boys and men that is followed up with a group meeting to talk about what happened and help the boys process their experience. I'm trying to stir your thinking here. Consider the impact of these kinds of experiences on an adolescent male:
  • A visit to a jail or prison

  • Working for a day on a Habitat for Humanity home build

  • Going to a stockyard where animals are butchered

  • Visiting the local firehouse, learning about the gear, skills, and hearing stories

  • A conversation with residents at a battered women's shelter

  • Visiting a Vet's hospital where they can talk with severely injured veterans

  • Helping out for a few hours at a nursing home serving a meal

  • Job shadowing - go to work with a man

  • Hearing from women recovering from being prostitutes

  • Feeding people at a homeless shelter

  • Spending a weekend night at the police station

  • Playing paint ball... after a discussion from a veteran about shooting at others

  • Hearing a speaker from Alcoholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous

You get the idea, and I'm sure you have ideas you could add. Ideally, when processed in a multi-generational group of males, these experiences would drive powerful discussions about life, manhood, profession, relationship to women, and responsibility.

After a year or so of these experiences, some opportunities for fun, and directly and indirectly learning from men across the discussion circle, an adolescent male, I think , would really be ready for some form of crossing into manhood ceremony.

What do you think?

What activities would you add to the list?

How would your life be different today if, as an adolescent, you had been surrounded by good men with the focused intention to teach you about life and the journey toward a positive manhood?

Comment on this post below or send me an email.

Please consider sending this along to a man you feel might be interested. We are all learning how to do this from each other, and we need all the good men we can get.

February 9, 2008

The Child-Man

Kay Hymowitz, a writer for the Dallas Morning News, was recently interviewed on National Public Radio (listen here) about her op-ed article describing her notion of the Child-Man. She's describing 20- to 30-year old child-men whom she feels are are hanging out in a kind of delayed adulthood, living in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.

Unlike their predecessors, Hymowitz feels these child-men are ignoring the adult male responsibilities of having a serious job, getting married, even having kids and a house.

That sounds similar to the responses I got when when I was doing my research for the Man-Making book. I asked men, What was THE moment in your life when you knew, for sure, that you had become a "man"? You can read the actual responses on the Man-Making website, but an amazing number of men replied that there wasn't a single moment they could remember when they entered manhood, that they never crossed a recognizable line and became a man, and many said they weren't sure they were "men" yet today!

In an article titled 'Generation Next' in the Slow Lane to Adulthood (just below the Hymowitz interview), NPR writer Patti Neighmond quotes Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at Clark University. He has coined the term "emerging adult." He's describing the period of 18-25 years old where today's youth are less mature, avoiding adult responsibility, and overly dependent on their parents. Arnett claims a number of cultural changes over the past five decades created this lengthened path to adulthood.

I believe the absence of adult males in boy's lives, as mentors and role models, is at least a contributor to this notion of adolescence lasting into the the thirties for some men. If you're a young male and you've never spent extended time with or around solid adult men, I guess beer, women, and your X-box would be about as good as it gets.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Leave your comment on this blog post. OR, if you're a male and you'd like to tell me when and how you crossed the line into a certain manhood, send me an email and I'll add your contribution to this question in the What Men Say section of the Man-Making website.