August 21, 2012

A Guy’s Wilderness Canoeing Adventure

This is the “silly picture” of some men and young guys taken near the Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or BWCA as the locals call it. It's a guy's group from the Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Minnesota (BTM-MN). Maybe you can't see it, but this is a true victory photo for a whole bunch of reasons.

For those that aren't familiar with the area, the BWCA is on the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Minnesota. It's part of the historic homeland of the Ojibwe people, who traveled the same waterways in birch bark canoes. Think of the BWCA as a million-acre wilderness playground, with over a thousand lakes, and over 2,200 back-country campsites. The lakes are connected by portage trails or paths between the lakes that require carrying all your gear, and the canoes, across the land separating the lakes. It's the perfect guy place, and just what's needed to heal Nature Deficit Disorder.

In past blog posts I've written about the idea of Nature Deficit Disorder, or NDD. When young males are without older men as guides to the natural world, it's easy for them to be completely disconnected from nature. For young dudes who only know pavement, buildings, malls, and their own neighborhood, the idea of paddling a canoe across open water, cooking over a fire, and spending a few nights in the woods can be a terrifying notion. So the first victory is that these guys got a taste of this awesome wilderness area at all.

The men of BTM-MN really know how to construct this kind of an adventure. For starters, they use only background-checked men, they have conversations with parents, and they get parental release forms. The weekend prior to the actual outing, there was a training event so the young guys could get some experience with canoes, paddling technique, and, for some, just getting comfortable in and on the water. As the trip grew close, they sent out instructions on how to pack for camping and even offered scholarships for those who couldn't afford the small cost of the trip.

On launch day, nine young males and three men set out into the great wilderness, much like males have done for centuries. In the BWCA, portage distances are still measured in rods. A rod is the same as 16.5 feet. The crew managed 3 portages of 10, 70, 120 rods. That's a lot of carrying, tripping on roots, and finding your way with a canoe on your shoulders.

They finally arrived at their predetermined campsite, a physical victory to be sure. It was a beautiful location, with lots of wide rock shelves, breezes to keep bugs away, and a nearby stream to explore. They set up their tents, established the campsite, and from there the grand adventure unfolded.

An important collection of victories came from how much these (sometimes academically challenged) young guys learned. They got hands-on experience with canoeing skills, catching and cleaning fish, fire starting, bear-proofing a campsite, the use of a compass and maps, managing un-potable water, cooking, cleaning, taking a wilderness crap, and the needed teamwork to get it all done. All of that while having fun, exploring on day-long side trips, swimming, having water fights, and spending a lot of time around a campfire.
Perhaps one of the biggest victories for these young guys
was simply the time they got to spend around men
Perhaps one of the biggest victories for these young guys was simply the time they got to spend around men. I know these particular men. Because of their big hearts and powerful intention to support young males, I'm certain they were constantly modeling important lessons in how to be a good man. I believe in addition to all the fun, the inevitable and difficult conflicts in the group were dealt with head on with patience, care, and teaching. I am also just as certain the young guys were generously and regularly praised for their many accomplishments.

Because of the trust that develops in the pack, in the quieter times around the fire it's common to have a man or young guy share some personal truth about their fears, sadness, successes, or hopes for the future. They get deep listening from the others, and in some way, are honored for their vulnerability. Because of all this, you can be sure they all came back more a band of brothers than they were before the trip.

If you and a few of your men friends want to make a big difference in young male lives, gather up some boys, pack up, and set out. The "wilderness" doesn't have to be the BWCA, and can be as close as the city park on the edge of your community. I believe males are hardwired for this kind of "heading out," and the destination is less important then your small male tribe gearing up, going "away," and having some fun together in a beautiful place.

If you'd like some support to take on this kind of outing, give me a shout. Or you can contact Charlie Borden, the BTM-MN coordinator for the BWCA trip. We'll give you some ideas, tell you it's easier than you think, and remind you that, with caring men showing up for boys, you just can't do it wrong.

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August 9, 2012

A Couple of BAM's for Boys

As a follow-up to the recent Man-Making Blog post, Men in Schools - for Boys, and in support of this very form of Man-Making, I want to share an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune. It describes research conducted by the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab on 800 disadvantaged boys, from seventh through tenth grade, in one Chicago school district.

The boys were enrolled in BAM, or Becoming A Man—Sports Edition programs during the 2009-2010 school year. While that program is alive and well today, during the research period, BAM offered boys one-hour, small-group sessions, once a week, where they could develop social skills associated with self-control, goal setting, and emotional development. The core values taught in BAM include:
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Self‐determination
  • Positive Anger Expression
  • Visionary Goal‐setting
In BAM Sports, they also wisely use after-school sports activities to help reinforce the program values. This time also creates the opportunity to teach boys important lessons on conflict resolution, with the coaches playing the role of instructor and facilitator.

Just some of the results from the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab research indicated the participants, " . . . experienced a 44 percent drop in arrests for violent crime and an up to 23 percent increase in graduation rates."

These numbers are especially meaningful because the Tribune states in this same school district, ". . . 319 students were killed or injured by gun violence during the last school year, the highest in four years, and a nearly 22 percent increase from the previous school year." I've often quoted the old African proverb that states, "If the young men are not initiated into the life of the village, they will burn it down just to feel the heat." That is clearly what was going on in this school district. The good news is BAM Sports is one very gender literate and school-based approach to reaching out to otherwise lost boys.

High Quality and Pro-active
Community Violence Prevention

BAM Sports and all the programs engaging at-risk boys represent high quality and proactive community violence prevention. If outcomes like those in this research continue to be replicated, not only will there be tremendous social gains measured in boys' lives saved, crime reduction, and increased quality of life in their communities, there will also be huge savings in taxpayer dollars. In a related press release, the Crime Lab Director, Jens Ludwig, said, "depending on how we measure the costs of crime," they expect returns on investment of somewhere between 3:1 to 31:1. In just dollars, the BAM Sports program costs $1,100 per participant compared to $3,600 - $34,000 for dealing with lost boys.

For a more detailed description of this program and it's outcomes read this description in the University of Chicago online news.

But one more quick BAM . . . for boys.

This next BAM (and, yes, there are lots of programs by that name) stands for Boys Advocacy and Mentoring. It was started by three Portland, Oregon area men who are counseling professionals. It has been developed over the thirty years of their combined experience working with boys and their families.

These men realized many boys’ difficulties arise from limited relational abilities in an increasingly relational world. On their website they state, "How can we see boys as something other than as problems? How can we effectively help boys resolve the difficulties they face? We recognize and support what is natural about boys’ behavior and realize the necessity of helping boys to connect more with themselves and others."

Out of their work with boys, families, and from doing groups for boys in schools, they have developed a solid guidebook for those of you interested in facilitating school-based programs for boys. They call it the BAM! Boys Advocacy and Mentoring: A Leader's Guide to Facilitating Strengths-Based Groups for Boys. In the author's words, "The BAM! Group Guidebook outlines a group experience which introduces school-aged boys to new perspectives on what it means to be male and helps them build the relational skills they need to become healthy men." If you'd like a peak at the book's table of contents, you can download this PDF file. It will let you see the broad scope of subject matter a school-based group can cover.

To learn more about this BAM, the book, and the men doing this work, visit their website.

Please realize that you don't have to be a professional to show up for boys in schools. If you're a motivated man with a couple of guy friends, there is a way you, too, can learn to work with boys. If you are inclined but don't know where or how to start, give me a shout. The need is way too great to have good men on the sidelines; the boys are waiting.

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