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A Mentoring Culture


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:01 pm

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Community of Uncles
One part of mentoring is creating a network of “uncles” who expand a youngsters group of male role models. “What I’m finding about fathering,” says David Brownstein, a father of three sons and part of the mentoring community, “is that doing this in a vacuum is really challenging. Once sons reach adolescence, they turn away from their fathers, and in some ways see them as one dimensional. I have three boys, and I’m intensely focused on providing opportunities for my sons to spend time with men who can teach them things I can’t, and who are good role models for what it means to be a man.” So he and other fathers empower “uncles,” as they are called—not biologically connected, but serving as caring role models.

“As fathers,” says Brownstein, “we are saying to other men, ‘I want you to be uncles to my son, because I can’t do it alone.’ The mentoring culture today is a group of men who are supporting their sons as they enter adolescence, staying compassionate and present as they face the trials and tribulations of being a teen. We are also creating for them meaningful rites of passage or initiation—where we acknowledge their passage into the beginning stages of adulthood, and how each one has proven himself, how each is different. You end up with kids who can really stand up straight, and they feel supported and loved. We’re renewing what has existed throughout time but what’s been lost in the last hundred years or so. President Obama is talking about this sort of thing—you have to start in your own community and work to create community again.”

Wild Earth
Brownstein expresses his mentoring passion through camps and workshops at Wild Earth Wilderness School in New Paltz, of which he is director. This nonprofit provides a diversity of experiences in nature, for people of all ages in mixed-gender or single-gender activities. “We create a safe space for them journey and interact on the earth, in the earth—we call it ‘dirt time,’” says Brownstein. “Last summer’s Wild Earth camp hosted 140 kids, ages 3 to 13, with about 40 instructors aged 16 to 70. We send these kids out into nature in groups of other similarly aged boys and girls led by really good role models, including instructors that are just a bit older and have been through the program. The younger boys can see what the ones ahead of them can do—things like create a fire without matches or build a shelter that will keep them warm and dry, take care of themselves in the wild. Just think of a young man who can actually survive for a week or more in the wilderness. Imagine how those kids are going to do in their first job, or in a challenging situation at work.”

A fundamental concept behind all this, says Brownstein, is to relearn what it means to value everyone, and exchange our gifts with each other freely, among all age groups. “When a 20-year-old comes over to pick up my boys to do something with them, because he wants to, he’s caring for my boys,” says Brownstein. “In exchange I want him to stay for dinner, as a way of taking care of him. That’s the feeling we’re going for, that healthy community piece. We want to reclaim that blueprint.”

Multigenerational mentoring is Wild Earth Wilderness School’s foundation. “We try to make sure all the generations are represented,” says Brownstein. “Toddlers, adolescents, teens, new parents, older parents, elders, super-elders—when all of those are present, everyone can relax into what’s happening. Elders get to see the kids playing, and also get to tell stories and talk about things they’ve learned. A parent at 50 years old is watching from a parental standpoint, holding energy about protection. The 20-year-olds don’t think that way because they are not parents. And the young kids can relate more to the teenagers just ahead of them and see what’s coming next for them. So, as much as we can, we create those generations when we put programs together, like a model of a healthy community. Our community is the strongest when everyone is involved.”

Rites of passage
Peter Ferland got involved with Track and Sign as one of the fathers supporting last year’s rites of passage weekend, for the boys who were ready to be seen and celebrated as coming into adulthood. He was intrigued by the idea of the mentoring and the ceremony for his boys, now ages 7 and 11. Like many parents today, Ferland had no such thing during his adolescence. “No one was really there for me,” he sums up. “That’s something that’s missing in our culture. There is even this stigma that teenagers are horrible—and to be fair, they can be—but they are trying on a lot of different attitudes and personalities, and their brain chemistry is changing drastically. They are not supported through this by the cultural attitude—there is just this blank spot.”

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