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Mentoring Saves Lives

Many of our youth have no one to talk with. They may be bullied at school. Their parents could be too busy to give them time, and their teachers might punish them by reporting their confessions or giving them bad grades.

A mentor volunteers their time, which is amazing to most kids. They love the fact that someone cares about them enough to give them guidance and support - and they’re not doing it for money! They may not show their appreciation when you first start meeting because your mentees could be testing you. It takes time and your dependability to build their trust. You must be reliable and be open to what they have to say, without judgment. Maintain their confidentiality.

With some of our kids becoming violent and dangerous - especially those with mental health problems - mentors can become the safety valve that allows children to release their pent up anger and frustrations by having a trustworthy adult who is a great sounding board. Giving them the chance to vent their feelings can save lives.

(Source: createnow.org)

National Mentoring Month

January is National Mentoring Month, so why not start the year off by making an impact on a trouble kid’s life. You can either find a “Special Friend” for one-on-one mentoring, or work with a small group of youth to help them with their homework, teach them something new or take them on outings. Go to www.mentoring.org to find a mentoring program near you and sign up! You’ll not only change a child’s life, but your own will be impacted.

Arts xChange Launched

We’re excited that our pilot program Arts xChange, which is bringing together Hutu and Tutsi youth in Rwanda with Bloods and Crips gang members in Compton, CA has officially launched! The youth are connecting in a special Facebook Group that will be shared with the public soon. It’s evolving into a very different program than we had anticipated, but it’s all good! Stay tuned for details as the program develops.

Start a Mentoring Program!

If you can’t find a place near you with at-risk youth to mentor, start your own program! You can volunteer through a local school, religious center or a shelter to recruit people in your community who want to mentor. My book "Mentor Youth Now: A Guidebook for Transforming Young Lives" is a great tool for learning mentoring basics and following best practices.

You will need to have all the mentors screened with a background check. There are places in your neighborhood that offer these services for a nominal fee. I suggest that you affiliate with a staff member at the youth facility so that you’re covered legally and you’ll have additional help and protections. Once you get things rolling, then you might be able to make some wonderful mentoring matches between needy kids and volunteers. What an amazing way to change lives, and entire communities!

(Source: mentoryouthnow.org)

Mentor Youth Now

Street gangs, drug addiction, child prostitution, homelessness, abuse and neglect are major concerns for our youth. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24. Half of the U.S. youth population (17.6 million kids) is considered “at-risk” of getting into trouble with the law, or “high-risk” and already in trouble. 

Our children urgently need help, and mentoring has been proven to work!

Research shows that kids who are mentored have improved school attendance and better academic performance, a good attitude, less hostility, more self-esteem and many other improved qualities.

Mentors report that they’re happier with their families and careers. They gain respect from their associates and feel terrific about giving back to their communities. It’s very empowering to know that you have influenced a child’s life, which can ripple out to touch many others.

There are different types of mentoring: One-on-One Mentoring, Group Mentoring, Team Mentoring, Family Mentoring, e-Mentoring, Peer Mentoring and more. Mentors inspire us to try harder and give us confidence to reach for more ambitious goals. They teach us how to make good choices and also open doors to new opportunities that normally wouldn’t be available. Disadvantaged youth are especially in need of support.

Mentoring requires commitment and responsibility. You MUST keep your word and be dependable to have a positive effect. If you break your word, you’ll do more damage than good. Most importantly, LISTEN! Kids need to communicate and vent their feelings. It’s important to hear what they say and to be as open-minded as possible. Don’t force your beliefs on them.

Tasha is a great example of how mentoring can change a life. She grew up with a dysfunctional family in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood. From ages 13-16, she kept running away from home and ending up at detention centers. Through Create Now, I introduced Tasha to her mentor Lisa, who encouraged her mentee to apply to college. As a result, Tasha graduated from USC Film School with a scholarship and attended her first year of law school at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She’s now writing film reviews and performing standup comedy.

The longer you mentor, the greater the effect. However, even short-term mentoring works. Frank was in a detention facility for ditching school and doing drugs. The boy turned his life around after just one hour with his mentor, jazz saxophonist Michael Lington, who told his mentee to be persistent and responsible. Frank said, “No one ever told me that before.” Now he works at the hottest record store in L.A. while perfecting his saxophone skills.

Where do you find kids to mentor? Search the Internet to contact foster group homes, detention facilities, homeless shelters, schools, youth clubs, community-based organizations and religious centers. Also, visit www.mentoring.org to find mentoring programs in your area.

There are a lot of things that you can do with your mentees. Many of these kids have never been out of their own neighborhoods. You could take them on a trip to the beach, a hike in the mountains, to a movie, restaurant, bowling, or to visit a museum. Expose them to cultural events like the theater and concerts, or just hang out and talk.

There can be challenges to mentoring. Perhaps your mentee misses appointments. Maybe family members interfere. Your mentee might confide something that’s alarming. How do you react if they’re using drugs or engaging in sex? What if they want to borrow money? Common sense takes care of most of these issues, and the rewards far outweigh any difficulties.

Mentoring is a process that grows richer with time, and bears delicious fruit. Imagine being asked to attend your mentee’s college graduation. Think of the joy you’ll feel when you are honored at their wedding, or become the Godparent of their child.

These children represent our future. If everyone contributed just an hour or two each week to mentoring a child or a group of kids, we could create powerful transformations. No matter where you live or what you do for your occupation you can impact a child. Through mentoring, you can make a big difference in yourself, your community, and the world!

(Source: mentoryouthnow.com)

Happy National Mentoring Month!

It’ a new year and like many people, I’m so glad to leave 2011 behind and move into 2012. Yet while the challenges we faced were difficult at times, I look back and marvel at our accomplishment!

We started off the year in our new office downtown, close to the Los Angeles Convention Center, and it’s fabulous — twice the size of our last place and much cheaper with lots of free parking. Create Now served 3,389 of the most vulnerable kids in Southern California through our innovative programs in music, dance, writing, art, theater, cultural excursions and much more.

I gave a number of presentations to dignitaries and diplomats selected by our embassies all over the world to visit our country through the International Visitor’s Council (IVCLA), which is an adjunct of the U.S. State Department. As a result, we received the IVCLA’s prestigious “2011 Community Resource Award.”

We’ve got great new projects in the works and have developed terrific partnerships with key stakeholders. There’s so many exciting things happening that it would take hours to share all the good news.

I’m thrilled that I have completed and published my book, “Mentor Youth Now: A Guidebook for Transforming Young Lives,” which teaches you everything you need to know about mentoring. It’s easy-to-read, well organized and packed with information on everything you need to know about mentoring kids. You can buy it on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, for Kindle, iPad, etc. Learn more at my website: www.mentoryouthnow.com.

Since January is National Mentoring Month, I hope you’ll start 2012 off by becoming a mentor, or at least exploring the possibility (my book is a great tool :-)  - Happy mentoring!

Arts xChange Links Hutus and Tutsis with Bloods and Crips

I founded my nonprofit organization Create Now in Los Angeles in 1996 after discovering that my city was not only one of the most glamorous places in the world, but we also have the highest poverty rate in the U.S., and more incarcerated youth, homeless children and foster kids than the rest of our country. I had a successful career as a script supervisor (continuity) and a screenwriter in the entertainment industry, but helping to save our children was far more compelling.

Create Now is a non-profit organization that transforms the lives of high-risk and at-risk youth through creative arts mentoring, education, resources and opportunities. We serve vulnerable kids ages 2-25 who have been abused, neglected, homeless, teen parents, substance abusers or incarcerated. With our therapeutic programs in music, writing, visual and performing arts, kids learn to express themselves in a positive manner. Each year, we also bring thousands of these children to concerts and plays. We have reached over 28,000 of the most troubled youth in Southern California during the last 15 years.

I was thrilled when the British Council invited me to join their first multilateral Global Xchange program. I spent three weeks in Durban, South Africa in January 2010, and three weeks in Belfast, North Ireland in March, along with 25 other leaders from six countries (France, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, U.K. and U.S.). We shared best practices, volunteered with local community groups and worked together to create local events. It was an amazing adventure that I’ll never forget!

My counterpart was Rafiki Callixte, Project Manager at Les Enfants de Dieu, a residential facility that effects transformation in the lives of Rwandan street children. Rafiki taught me how he used conflict resolution exercises to bring together Hutu and Tutsi youth, and I shared how we use creative arts mentoring to uplift troubled kids.

As a result of this experience, I initiated our newest program Arts xChange, which has been funded by USA for Africa. Using Skype, we’re bringing together 16 Rwandan youth from a group called Sparks for Change, with 16 rival Bloods and Crips gang members in L.A. through Unity One, a prominent gang intervention organization. Starting in February 2012, students on four-person teams and also with counterparts will follow a special 18-week curriculum developed by the Western Justice Center that will prompt discussions about violence, poverty, conflict and acceptance, fused with our “Introduction to Art Workshop.” Participants will be given materials and equipment to create drawings, paintings, sculptures and videos that focus on these issues.

The workshop will culminate with two exhibitions in Kigali and at the Timothy Yarger Fine Art Gallery in Beverly Hills. All youth will receive video cameras and a variety of prizes, as well as positive critique on their artwork and guidance in developing portfolios and careers as visual artists.

We discovered in Belfast that it’s almost impossible to get Protestant and Catholic youth in the same room. The Bloods and Crips made a peace treaty in 1992, but the reality is that these gangs are still at war and it’s challenging to bring them together. As a result, we’re working with two different schools: one with Bloods and the other Crips. Through Create Now's Arts xChange program, we’ll help break down those walls. At the same time, the Rwanda youth refuse to be known as Hutus or Tutsis. They only want to be known as Rwandans.

This is already a phenomenal learning experience for me and the program hasn’t even begun yet! I can’t thank Global Xchange enough for this incredible opportunity.

Another Meeting with Global Arts Leaders

The International Visitors Council invited me to give another presentation to a group of 20 arts leaders and dignitaries from all over the world, who are guests of our government. They were invited by the U.S. to learn about the arts and tolerance.

This time a representative from the State Department was there and he loved my presentation! Several of the attendees want to collaborate with Create Now. A few of the people bought my book, “Mentor Youth Now: A Guidebook for Transforming Young Lives,” which isn’t even published yet.

This new direction of using the arts for conflict resolution and world peace is SO exciting to me! It started with the fantastic opportunity that the Global Xchange program gave me this year, and has been accelerating ever since with these phenomenal opportunities to share our work with others on the same path all over the world. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next!

Middle-Eastern Meeting

Yesterday, I was invited by the International Visitor’s Council (which is funded by the State Department) to give a presentation on Create Now to a group of music educators from the Middle East. They came from Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and the Palestinian Territories. They loved my work and there were a lot of handshakes and hugs at the end, along with a gift of a sculpture carved from an olive tree, and an invitation to attend an event in Bahrain.

Ever since my experience traveling through Global Xchange, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using the arts to help create world peace. During my presentation, I shared my vision of bringing together youth from gangs in Los Angeles to connect with youth in Palestine and Israel. By using the arts and the Internet to allow them to communicate with each other in small groups, these kids can learn to raise awareness and help mediate issues taking place on the other side of the world that can also assist them to learn more about the divisions taking place right here in L.A., and vice versa in the Middle East. This is especially true since the core issues of territory and retaliation seem to propel wars, no matter where they take place.

Using the arts can not only be therapeutic, to express repressed anger or hostile feelings in a safe manner that can be shared with many others, but they also allow “enemies” to communicate. Think about the power of role playing and feeling what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes through theatre. Imagine the magic of music lifting people’s spirits while they hear lyrics that speak to their emotions. Visualize art that touches people’s souls; and using the pen instead of guns and rocks to stop violence.

The power of the arts is limitless. I’m excited to explore the possibilities of international conflict resolution through the arts in more depth.

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