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A Mentoring Culture


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

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So instead, Ferland is one of those men guiding the evolution of these young people, with deep caring. He and the other mentors meet regularly to share observations about how things seem to be going for the boys. “We don’t try to orchestrate change within them,” says Ferland, “but we pay attention, and see ways in which, for example, a boy might be habitually reluctant to try something new, or seem to have a hard time being fully present. We could then see if there was an activity that would be useful or challenging for that boy.”

Ferland was one among several men who, a few weeks ago, formed a circle of support honoring boys as they came down off their 24-hour solo in the mountains, as part of their weekend-long rites of passage. Ferland is making a film about it, but was clear he didn’t want to record boys on their solos. He will record the boy’s public presentations at a community sharing about what they have learned, but he is equally intrigued by the effect on the community.

“We were not just putting them through an experience,” says Ferland. “It’s also about the larger community paying attention. There were thirty men sitting in a circle for seven boys when they came off that mountain, including many men not related to them who are interested in their welfare and in the larger project. We even had a group of women who came to the site beforehand and did a 24-hour fire, who didn’t know the boys but felt moved to honor the spirit of the land in preparation for their process.”

Boy to Man
Liam Purvis, now 19, has fledged and is in California. Liam loved the summer camp his dad found for him so many years ago, and the journey since. “When I was little, we lived in the country and I didn’t have a TV or video games,” he says. “I was already running around the woods, sleeping in piles of leaves, making fire by friction, getting covered with mud.” So the summer camps in Vermont were great. “And when I turned 13, in addition to the summer camp, every autumn and spring I went to a weeklong rendezvous, camping out in the woods with instructors.”

Maybe not every kid would relish all that “dirt time,” but Liam did. “As a kid you feel fortunate to have these experiences. My best friends were doing it. It was very cool to have adventures in the woods, the instructors were authentic and awesome. They are super-skilled, knowledgeable, heavy hitters giving us this download.” Back in New Paltz, he says it was the “hard, hard work of my parents, meeting people and getting me out there into a good network of people committed to my growth as a person. I’ve met some of the most amazing people—people I’m very lucky and fortunate to know.”

Liam’s upbringing has set him on a passionate course to make a difference in the world, and enjoy doing so. Now thriving in the San Francisco Bay area at the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness Program, which he says “teaches amazing skills you can use, and designed for people who are looking for something that’s life-changing.” With environmental problems looming larger than ever for his generation, Liam knows mentoring and nature experiences are a powerful preparation. “Mentoring in nature is the best way to create people totally invested in having a world that nature is still a part of. You get to know the species, and how to live off the land. It teaches a love for all things.”

For people who haven’t had his opportunity growing up, Liam urges them to heed these words of John Muir: “The wilderness is essential for the human soul. The degree to which one is aware is the degree to which they are alive. Life is a visceral experience. The more immersed we are, the more alive we are.”

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