May 27, 2012

Building Strong Boys and Communities

I like to profile organizations doing the important work of supporting boys, men, and communities. In the following contributed post, Colin Irish, a very solid man-maker, describes the process his organization, Threshold Passages, Inc.(TPI), went through to move from doing great work with men and boys to the larger challenge of building strong communities. Colin is the President of TPI, Inc., a good friend, and a man who is rapidly becoming what I call a communitarian!

The Wheel. Imagine being the person that invented it. Total genius. But never mind inventing it again. Nobody wants to do that. Or do they?

I run Threshold Passages, Inc., (TPI), a community-building, non-profit organization based in Denver, Colorado. As our name indicates, our original mission was to do rites of passage events for boys, followed by mentoring (See video clip at the end ). When we were the new kids on the block, naive and eager, we got our original operational guidelines from a national organization. It was full of how to’s and prescriptions. We gratefully soaked up the wisdom of those who had gone before us.

After a while, however, we realized the “one size fits all” prescription didn’t fit so well. We took some programming lumps, learned some things the hard way, and eventually, we took the risk to come up with our own way of doing things. For a long while we lived in the old adage that says, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” Then one happy day, we finally realized we could give ourselves permission to do what worked for our community! That’s when the wheels really started turning. Creativity was unleashed and new ideas started popping up that got everyone excited.

In fairly short order, our mission expanded from serving only boys in a certain age range (12-17yrs) to creating offerings for their parents, too. Instead of a classic mentor-mentee match-up, a group mentoring format was started that was a better fit for our men and boys. We were learning as we went, often creating what we needed on the spot. When we started our own leader training programs, I got the call from the national non-profit asking, “Why reinvent the wheel?” My immediate answer, “Because it’s so fun!”  The truth was that we were being pulled (led) by our community to fill in some critical blanks by responding to the call we heard, and it was exciting. It wasn’t long after that call we decided to change our name, changed our relationship with the big national non-profit, and became an independent local entity.
We went from an outfit committed to building
strong boys and men
to one committed to building a strong community
Today we are still reinventing, coming up with new programs and approaches as part of our business model . . . programs that really fit our community. We have reorganized, and changed our mission from solely serving boys to serving whole families. We went from an outfit committed to building strong boys and men to one committed to building a strong community.

Most recently, in addition to the Journey to Manhood (J2M) program, we’ve added a female led program for girls called Journey to Womanhood (J2W). That’s when we started to become an organization that serves the whole village. We’re expanding from working with teens, too. The younger boys and girls need something to belong to and the young adult men and women are asking for help with adult life. We’ve also put out a call to our elders – men and women over fifty years old who wish to serve – saying, “We need you!” The response was essentially, “Sure, but what does an elder do?” Turns out we’re not sure how to build that elder wheel, so we’re looking into creating an elder training.

As President of TPI, with 9 years’ experience supporting young people moving toward adulthood and their families, my suggestion is to simply start with what you have. Starting is important. Do the thing you and your allies are called to do. Anything you do will be better than not being there for your young people. Don’t be discouraged by the bumps in the road, and don’t hold your initial ideas too tightly. Stay open, let your experience guide you, and enjoy the excitement of learning along the way. In this way, boys, girls, men, women, elders, families, and your community will be best served . . . and you will have a grand adventure.

Collin Irish, President, Threshold Passages,

Here is a short peak at the TPI Rites of Passage Adventure Weekend for Boys.

If the clip isn't visible use this link.

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