Boys Navigating To Manhood
The final bell rings on Friday and the Waimea Middle School’s Boys to Men (BTM) cottage soon fills up with adolescent exuberance. Now in their fourth year, BTM Hawaii came about when Hawaii Island men set a mission to provide boys with the mentoring they missed in their own adolescent lives.
“We decided, much like the founders of BTM, that we don’t want others to have to wait until they’re in their 40s to start to learn about themselves and develop some emotional maturity,” says the group’s lead mentor, Steve Evans.
The Boys to Men Mentoring Network was founded in 1996 in San Diego by Herb Sigurdson, Joe Sigurdson and Craig McClain, who assembled a team of like-minded men to design a community involvement program with effective mentoring practices. While expanding to an international network, in 2009 BTM began a site-based program in the public schools, which is the model for the Waimea Middle School (WMS) program.
BTM has now grown to eight programs on Hawaii Island, with plans to open a program at Honokaa High School next year and expand to Maui.
The BTM group is voluntary and comprised of students taking part in the WMS’ “Connecting for Success” program.
“We tell them about Boys to Men, what it’s all about and ask them if they’d like to be a part of it,” says Lori Ching, the WMS liaison who is the conduit between the boys’ school experiences and the BTM mentors.
“We start by meeting with Lori first so she can tell us what’s going on with the boys. If they’re having a good week or a bad week, we know ahead of time,” says Evans.
Steve Evans and other mentors Sam Wilbur, Ric Rocker and Ciro Podany circle up with the boys at the weekly meeting, which begins with a check-in to get them grounded. This is followed by the reading of three questions to be pondered on topics such as acceptance and tolerance.
“We have three of the boys ask the questions and then we do what we call a walk and talk. We go out in groups, one mentor and three or four of the boys, and we come back and say what came up for us,” says Evans.
The BTM group is a venue for making connections and self-discovery, rather than a place to receive advice.
“If something comes up, we talk about how it showed up in our lives when we were their age, what we did and how that turned out for us,” says Evans. “The group mentoring has the advantage that the boys are interacting with each other and finding out, as I do when I sit with a group of men, that ‘Oh, he’s going through the same thing I am.’ I don’t feel as alone and the boys may not feel quite as alone because somebody else is experiencing the same thing.”
The group is also a safe zone for students to reflect on and change old behavior patterns.
“A really cool one that happened last year was when some of the boys were having problems with a new teacher. ‘She’s yelling at us, sending us to the office.’ The boys were getting up without permission, going to the restroom, throwing paper away in the middle of class and they didn’t realize that all those things were adding up to going to the office,” says mentor, Sam Wilburn.
The mentors challenged the boys for the next two weeks to change their behavior and put the seventh graders in charge of keeping them accountable.
“At the end of two weeks, they couldn’t believe how she changed. ‘She’s so much nicer to us. She’s not sending us to the office,’ they said, and realized that by changing themselves they had changed her,” says Wilburn.
Mentors help students see how their behavior, such as bullying, ripples out to affect others. Returning for the second year of BTM, one student announced that he had stop bullying.
“We have an open circle and we asked the kids how bullying had affected them. He realized how pushing, shoving and degrading the other kids was affecting them,” says Wilburn.
The mentors also help the boys to explore unexpected effects of their behavior.
“They bullied a kid and he got fed up. A football came across and hit him, not on purpose, and he went over and punched the other kid. He’d had enough. So we explained to the boys, you may be bullying and you think it comes back at you and it doesn’t. Sometimes it goes after an innocent person,” says Wilburn.
At the Adventure Weekend, an integral part of the BTM program, the boys have a chance to take stock and make lasting connections.
“They’re away from the distractions of everyday life and given the opportunity to look at themselves, see what they want for themselves in their lives, what might be standing in their way and come up with solutions for how to move past those obstacles in life,” says Evans. “There’s a lot of connection and trust built on that weekend. They get to test their boundaries, and when mistakes are made, they’re learning opportunities. Nobody is made to feel that they are wrong or that they’re shamed.”
Evans adds, “Both the men’s group and BTM is about getting in touch with ourselves and stepping into being leaders in our own lives. So that’s what we want — to empower boys to take charge of their own lives.”
The success of the program was evident at this year’s Connect for Success award ceremony on April 8.
“It’s really heartwarming to see all the awards that the kids get. Each and every boy in our group gets an award,” he adds.
Thanks to the willingness of many volunteer mentors, the Boys to Men program is strengthening our island canoe, one boy at a time.