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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Difference a Mentor Makes

In the fall of 2009 I was driving a group of teenagers around as they went door to door to sell candy bars to raise money for our new boxing program. One of the homes had a 16 yr old in it who was excited to hear about the program. He was soon at the gym where I began a mentoring relationship with him. His story is like far too many young men in the Saginaw area—black, white, Hispanic it doesn’t matter if they have no dad in their life. When he was an infant his father went to prison (where he still is today). His mom did her best, working two jobs while finishing nursing school and providing for her three children—yet as he was becoming a young man she was not able to control him, and … the home life became a battle ground.

Things got to the breaking point at home and, since I had developed a mentoring relationship with this (now 17 yr old) young man, he got dropped off here. I was sitting in my office when he came in one evening this past winter and asked if he could stay with me. In the natural there was just no way. Financially I was already stressed to the point of not knowing how I would even feed myself, let alone a teenager, and then there are the added expenses of time and money, taking him to school, going to the barber, to and from friends for social times, all that and the unlimited etcetera of parental/mentoring involvement with any young person. It was way out of the realm of “possible”—in the harsh reality of the natural. So what did I say?

I, ignoring the natural's nagging opposition and following the spiritual's assurance, said, “Of course, son—you are welcome in my home.” I am very proud of this young man as he is finishing school this year and has enlisted in the US Army. It is a struggle financially. I literally live day to day, trusting God for the provision needed, yet my investment into his life has made a difference.

I also mentor two younger teens who are brothers—14 & 13 years old. The older brother is in the boxing program. These two young men, both promising fellows coming from a less-than-promising home and family situation, have seen their lives turned upside down in the past year. Their dad went to prison for at least 25 years this past summer. Home life, after that, became even more unstable. Their grandparents have taken them in—even though they don’t have an actual room for them to stay in. I feed them, got them both into the Y, cheer the older one on in boxing and listen to the younger brother play his saxophone as I build my mentoring relationship with them.

All three young men I mentor have become good friends. I take them all to the Y several nights each week after boxing practice. Last week, as I was being (willingly) tortured on the elliptical, I saw my three boys all in the Jacuzzi enjoying themselves after a long day. What I did not know, until the oldest one told me later, was the gist of the conversation they were having. The eldest youth was talking like a big brother to the other two, encouraging them to stay focused on what matters: do well in school, stay in church, and stay off the streets. On the way home one of the brothers called their grandparents to see if they could get some pizza. After working out at boxing and then running 5 miles at the Y he was hungry! He was easily overheard saying, Oh wow, really, all we have is ramen noodles? Well I have two dollars, I could help if—“  

The oldest youth, the one who lives with me, quickly chimed in, “I got five dollars. You can have that, help you get some pizza.”

Folks, that was all the money he had. Five bucks. He often doesn’t often any money but his grandfather had handed him a five spot at the Y that night. As I dropped off the two younger brothers I said, “Well good night, guys,” and I added, “I love you.”

“Love you too, Pastor,” was their unison response with welcomed grins on their faces. Then the youngest brother reached into the car, tapped his friend on the shoulder and said, “I love you too, man.”

To which his older brother immediately responded, “Yeah, man—I love you too.”

Now picture this. One African-American teenager, two Hispanic teenagers, all three boys with fathers in prison, who—given their differing ethnic backgrounds and ghetto upbringings—would typically be in opposing camps, hateful toward each other, even gang-warring enemies of each other, are able to say, out loud, the words ‘I love you.’ Not just to me, who is a father figure to them, but to each other. Look up the statistics on how many young men who grow up without fathers fare (70 % of long-term inmates grew up fatherless) and you will see just how powerful that simple moment was.

I am just one man, giving time and effort into three young lives. Imagine what would happen in my ministry if I were able to train up more men to do what I am doing? Last year a mother brought her 13 yr old son to the boxing gym. When I met her she told me, with tears in her eyes, that she was a single mom and really needed to get her son into something positive to help him from getting into trouble as he had no father. That young man came a few times but his mom, with limited resources, was not able to continue to bring him. I had no mentor available to become part of his life. I now see his Facebook status updates—they talk about gangs, drugs, sex, and violence. Here is a recent un-edited update:

“damn on ld almost got locked up earlier all i gotta say is fuck tha police dey kicked but all n my guts”

You may not think you can do much about the seemingly overwhelming need here in the Saginaw area. Let me tell you, especially you men, that becoming a mentor can and does make a difference. This young man just messaged me recently again about the boxing program. I still have no mentor for him and the many others who come into my facility. What are you willing to do about it? If you don’t live in my area then you can help by becoming a financial supporter, helping provide the finances for me to be able to train up mentors and stem the tide of hopelessness so many young fatherless teens face here in Saginaw. All I ask is a pledge of $20 per month, just $.66 per day, to help me grow this ministry.

Back to you men—yes, you, men. Ladies are, of course, welcome to be mentors and help the ministry—I find that I don’t often have to ask the women for help, they step it up by their nature, it seems. It is you men who I am having a difficult time getting motivated. Just one more man stepping up would make a difference in a now 14 year old’s life. If something doesn’t change for him soon he will become another sad statistic of failure—our failure as a community of faith and love to help raise him. 

Will you answer the call? – email me and let’s talk. 

Keep the Faith ...
Pastor Dana Wilson

A note from the Old Silly: To make a pledge to ongoing support for SLM's mentoring efforts (and other valuable outreach programs) and/or a one time donation, please click here. Also, PD wanted to close this post with this very insightful and apt anecdote. Enjoy, ponder, and do what the Spirit moves you to do, hm?

One morning an elderly man was walking on a nearly deserted beach. He came upon a boy surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean.
Puzzled, the older man looked at the youngster and said, "Little boy, what are you doing?"

The youth responded without looking up, "I'm trying to save these starfish, sir."

The old man chuckled aloud, and queried, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?"

Holding a starfish in his hand, the boy turned to the man and, gently tossing the starfish into the water, said, "It will make a difference to that one!"

Put your faith into action …

Pastor Dana

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Heidiwriter said...

A touching story. God bless this ministry!

The Old Silly said...

Thanks, Heidi - and welcome to our SLM blog. Stop back often, we post lots of touching and inspiring stuff here - just one more way of doing what we can to bring the Light of Christ's Love to our world, hm? :-)

Vern said...

Awesome stuff! Keep up the good work.