Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mentor Camp: Day 3

Sunday. I woke up again at 6:30pm and this time decided to get dressed and then return to my bed to rest until 7:00am rolled around. I was finally getting the hang of things. 

Same as before my mentees and I went to the recreation baseball field and got in our lines for opening stretches. We were actually the first ones from our cabin to get there. I was pretty proud. :) 

Then the mentors were again taken aside and told to resume their posts along the jogging trail as they had before to cheer the kids on as they ran. Again it was awkward clapping and cheering-alone- while standing beside a tree in the woods as teens ran by. Luckily this time round I didn't have to run the other 70% of the track like I had on Saturday to get back to camp. I got to cheat and head back the other 30% of the beginning trail I had taken to get to my post.

Then it was breakfast time! We had pancakes and bacon. And I hate 2 cups of hot chocolate. And orange juice. I had learned that the wilderness waits for no one and on this program's random schedule you didn't know how many hours it would be before your next meal or what was coming up ahead. Eat until you are entirely full.

My girls -as I feel like calling them now -were sitting with me and their group of friends at the breakfast table asking me what we were going to do today. I said, "It's going be mostly course room today. There's no outdoor activity that I know of, but we might get a break to go back to our cabins later. But it's going to be mostly course room." They moaned and complained. It's like giving a little kid a shot so they get better when they're sick. You feel bad because they seem to be in pain, but you ultimately know it's good for them. 

Course room started at 9:15am. We were warned that Sunday was going to be when the real work happened and it was going to be very emotionally draining. The session opened with everyone (mentors and mentees) getting around in a circle around the corners of the room. At the center of the room was a smaller circle outlined in masking tape. The lights were turned down and we were told that a scenario would be called out and if that scenario applied to you, then you walked from the edge of the room into the smaller circle. Then some people from the circle might be asked to comment. Then they would be asked to return to their place in the bigger circle. Besides answering when asked, the activity was to be completely silent. 

The first question asked was: "Who here has a pet that isn't a cat or a dog?" 20 people stepped into the circle. 10 were asked to say what their pet was. I didn't realize how popular turtles were... 

Another question: "Who here was born outside of the United States?" 15 people stepped into the circle. 70% were from Mexico. One was from Canada. Another was from Spain.

Question: "Who here has a relative or close family member that they haven't seen in for over a couple of years?" 25% of the room crammed into the circle. Most of them had fathers they hadn't seen -some since they the day they were born.

Question: "Who here has recently had a close friend or family member pass away?" 10 people went into the circle. All answered. For some it was a parent. For 3 it was a younger brother or sister. For 1 person it was a best friend. 

Question: "If someone in your close family has abused drugs or alcohol, step into the circle." I stepped in but was not asked to speak. Mostly "parents" were mentioned. Most did marijuana. For a few it was cocaine. For some it was alcohol.

Question: "If you have witnessed a member of your family being harmed in a physical way, step into the circle." 15 teens and 1 mentor stepped in. "Siblings" were mostly the answer. For a few it was "mother". 

Question: "If you have physically caused harm to yourself or attempted to commit suicide step into the circle." Only about 6 people stepped in -one of which was a teen named Carl that had already been pretty open about his multiple attempts to kill himself. 

I noticed my mentees were giggling in their small group of friends across the room from me. My initial reaction was, They better not be making fun of the kids in the circle. Or purposely not paying attention to this. Especially since my girl Alicia had stepped into the circle when she answered "Mexico" for being born outside the U.S. In my own mind, because I still didn't entirely know the full story of what my 2 girls have and haven't been through -I was watching and praying each time that neither would step into the circle for any of these questions asked. 

Question: "If you feel like God or a higher power has taken a vacation from your life and doesn't care about you, step in the circle." 20 people! Including a 50 year old mentor I considered spiritual and possibly Christian. Really?! Come on!... It did bug me. And then to see the hoards of kids who you then have to acknowledge feel completely unloved and uncared for by God. It hurt. 

Last Question: "If you have been emotionally or physically abused, step into the circle." 25 out of the 49 teens stepped into the circle. 

"If you have only been emotionally abused, step out of the circle." 15 still standing. 

"If you have been sexually abused, stay in the circle." 8 teen girls. 2 female mentors. 1 male mentor.

The girls in the circle were crying and holding onto one another, weeping of the other's shoulder.

They were then asked to return to the bigger circle. The lights were turned off and we were asked to lie on the floor and do calm breathing. We were told to relax.

After 15 minutes of laying on the ground, we were then paired with one of our mentees and asked to walk around outside for 20 minutes to talk and check in. I got Alicia. We proceeded to walk outside and I was handed a sheet of paper with questions about some of the main concepts the course had taught so far to see how much the mentee had retained/understood -which I thought was a stupid and inappropriate request being made by the program given the more significant conversations that should be taking place at that time.

But I asked my girl, "Do you know what it means to Honor Yourself As Your Word?" AGAIN for the 235738295328 zillionth time my girl says, "Huh?" Not caring or paying attention -just playing dumb. So, at this point, with my patience running thin, I ask her a common sense question, "Well what does it sound like it means? 'Honor your word' -what does that usually mean?" "And she says, "Oh like being honest and doing what you say you're going to do." And I answer, "Well there you go. Honor yourself as your word means keeping your word." 

Further conversations like that one ensued -until I gave up and decided to stop asking. Then as we were standing off to the side by some trees I asked, "So have you ever done drugs or anything -you haven't had you?" I honestly doubted that she had. I was about 70% certain that she hadn't at this point. 

"Yah I've smoked a couple times." 


"Really? Wow. Ok. Well what happened?" 

Mentee: "Well I was with my cousin once and I decided to try it and I also got drunk. I've also done it a couple times with my friends on the weekends." 

Me: "Do you do it anymore."

Mentee: "No, not since my friends haven't been hanging around." 

Then once again it was awkwardness and kind of silence between us. She asked me when lunch was and what was coming up next. I guess she was bored -which kind of surprised and disheartened me given everything we'd witnessed less than 20 minutes ago. Out of pure desperation I asked her, "So did you cry or anything when all that was going on?" "She looks at me in subtle, conceited way and says, "No." God forbid. 

"Well did you feel anything? I mean did you at least feel sorry for them or something?" Is my girl some sort of heartless robot?

"Yah I felt bad for them I guess..."

Shoot me. Just shoot me. I remember shortly after this point a thought occurred to me: How do you teach someone the value of life when they don't even value their own?

The course room opened again and we walked back into the room and resumed our seats -which had been slightly re-arranged. The format for this portion of the session was the same as what we the mentors had been taught through back in November. The mentees were asked to recall a time:

Between the ages of Now and 13
Between the ages of 10-13
Between the ages of 7-10
Between the ages of 2-6

A time when everything was going good and then something happened and ruined it. The happiness went away and you were impacted in a negative way. 

NONE of these times when given 10 minutes to visually recall these moments with eyes closed did my mentee ACTUALLY DO the assignment. I'm pretty sure she was half dozing. Each time her eyes opened and I was holding the pen to her journal asking her to tell me what memory she'd found so I could write it for her as the program had asked all I got was, "Oh,...I couldn't think of anything." So I got used to just asking her on the spot. 

She my 14 year old mentee gave 4 really interesting stories:

-Between the ages of 2-6: Her parents broke up and she was sent to live with her father's sister and her cousins in California. It was then about a year later that she found out her dad had gotten a girlfriend who then gave birth to a girl and a boy -half siblings my mentee later met. She said she liked her dad's girlfriend and met her family. Then her mom came to California and I think moved in with her aunt and cousins. Then her mom and dad started talking again and eventually he broke up with his girlfriend and got back with her mom. They now live together and she shares a room with her younger brother and sister who are 6 and 8 years old. 

It's a lot of stuff for a young kid to take in. 

We were asked to then ask the mentee: "How did you feel/handle the situation?" To which she replied, "I was scared and afraid at first when we were moving and stuff and then I was mad at my dad for a while." 

-Between the ages of 7-10: Her dad went out one night with her younger brother to a restaurant. Her dad started to get drunk so he called her mom to come pick up the son so he could stay and continue to drink. Then late at night he asked a woman at the restaurant to drive him home. She dropped him off a mile from his house, but he was too drunk to know where he was and got lost. Her mom tried calling him but he wouldn't answer his phone. Then they found out the police had picked him up for illegally crossing the street in traffic, and her mom and she got in the car to go pick him up. 

Me: "How did you feel during that?" 
Mentee: "I was scared and worried -and angry at my dad."
Me: "Why do you think he went out of his way to get drunk like that? Was he stressed over something?"
Mentee: "Yah probably raising the younger kids." 
Me: "And what did you think about your mom in that situation?"
Mentee: "I thought she was strong and I kind of admired her."

-Between the ages of 11-13: She went out on her bike from her house with her friend. They rode 10 minutes to a nearby liquor store to get some chips. She then rode back. Her mom saw her come in and was worried and asked her where she'd gone. She then told her mom that she was at her friend's house and her friend's mom was there. Unfortunately for her, her amiga had told her mom they had rode to the store -so when the 2 mom's checked in with one another, my mentees mom found out she had been lied to. Then my mentee got in trouble and wasn't allowed to go out for 2 weeks. 

Me: "So what did you learn from that?"
Mentee: "To tell my mom where I'm going and what I'm up to?"
Me: But do you tell her what you do -like when you smoked pot with your cousin?"
Mentee: "Yah I told her about that. She didn't really care since it was with family."
Me: "But did you tell her about your friends that you smoked with?"
Mentee: "No. I know she would be angry if I did."

-Between the ages of 13-Now: Her first day of high school she was supposed to get picked up by her cousins (16 and 17 years old). She waited 3 hours outside the school and they didn't come. She called them and they said they were lost so she had to try and find out where they were parked. She said she had been kind of frightened and worried during the experience. 

Me: "What did you learn?" 
Mentee: "Always tell people where I'm going and where to pick me up." 

Then we were asked to find common traits between the 4 stories:

-Involved family
-She was put in situations often outside of her control and kind of taken along for the ride
-Often scared
-Had to grow up fast
-Resented father 
-Learned to be more independent
-Learned adults don't always have it together or do what's right

We were then asked to find the common Theme of that person's behavior/attitude toward themselves: 

-The need to be strong and tough so she can handle life (especially since it can be frightening and unpredictable) 

-Being quiet because speaking won't change anything and no one will listen anyway

For there we got the Theme of Her Life: "I have been acting invisible because I am scared."

Then each mentee was asked to stand in their spot and proclaim their theme to the entire group. My mentee and 2 other members of her group of friends went last. Hiding until they were called out by name. I realized at this point how much I had in common with my mentee. The only difference was the way we handled things: I was less self-confident and more introverted so I thought everyone was better than me. She looked down on/judged other people silently -maybe out of jealousy.

Then the mentees were asked to pick out 3 things they want to "be" in the future: like "brave" or "honest".

It SEEMS like any easy thing to do. But AGAIN my girl asked, "Huh?" "What are we doing?" It's like she's high or drunk but I know she's sober... So AGAIN I re-explained things. Twice. In a row. Then a mentor coach came by and threw out some suggestions they then quickly wrote down. I think my mentees just refuse to think for themselves. It's like a game. How clever can you be by acting stupid so everyone around you will do the work for you. 

Then each mentee was asked to stand up on their chair and assert to the room what their 3 new goals of being were: "I am Jessica Power and I am Self-Assured, Spiritual, and Courageous." -To which the entire room would reply, "Yes you are!" and the mentee would then say, "I know I am!"

Some of the teens actually cried during this. Some needed their themes to be readjusted. A lot of them spoke their statement as more of a question: "I am Jessica Power and I'm strong, independent, and creative?..." Then they'd have to say it again until you could FEEL what they were saying was true.

My 2 mentees and 1 of their friends were the last 3 standing. They whispered their words. They stared at the statement they'd written out on the paper in their hands. They were bored and uninterested. Dispassionate. Mentee #2 finished first among the 3. I've had to admire her from a distance because during this session she'd been given over to a mentor coach while I worked one-on-one with Alicia.

Alicia had to restate her statement about 5 times until she mustered enough power to get the words out somewhat confidently. Their friend was the last standing.

Then it was lunch time. Burritos for lunch.

Afterwards there was more course room and some more lessons were taught. During this time my girls proceeded to pass notes back and forth and tap their feet in boredom. 

Then after about 4 hours it was dinner time. I don't remember what we had but I do remember that after I ate I went to take a shower and the bathroom was completely empty. Hallelujah!!! I took 10 minutes in the shower. It was great. Then I rushed back because the next course session was beginning. 

8pm the course room filled and the mentees were told to write down the initial, negative themes of their life on a piece of paper. We then left the course room and went out into the woods to a seating area that had a bonfire at the center of it. The mentees then had the chance to circle round the fire and throw their past into the flames.

Afterwards we returned to the course room which had been converted into a dance hall. My immediate reaction: Oh crap, I hope nobody pressures me into dancing... 2 minutes later one of the program leaders grabs my arm and tries to drag me out of the chair I found saying, "Come on! Let's dance! Lead by example." Which was stupid because NONE of the mentees had any trouble finding the dance floor. At one point I saw one girl place both arms on a table, back her ass up while another girl grabbed her hypes and proceeded to grind against her while 2 boys stood and watched. No troubles at all stepping onto the dance floor at all...

I got up and wandered over to another side of the room. Then rejoined 5 other mentors who were sitting out as well. The problem is attempting explaining this to people. People think you don;t want to dance because you're being "shy". I'm not that shy. Not as much as I used to be anyway. I'll get up and do jumping jacks in front of everyone if asked. There have been times when I was shy and sat out. There have been times when I've "let go" and joined in the dance. But during the times I did dance, I never enjoyed it. It has always been forced.

I compared it to this:

Say I offer you brussel spouts and you try them and decide you genuinely don't like them. 

2 days later if a group of friends peer pressures you into the brussel sprouts again -would you? Maybe. But would you like the brussel sprouts? NO.

Is it possible that you could choose to become a master chef and learn what ingredients go into making a great brussel sprout dish and then create something you actually like? Yes. But it would have to happen over time by your own choice for it to be enjoyed. 

Same goes for dancing.

At 11:00pm we were then told to return to our cabins for lights out at 11:15. My girls decided they wanted to shower. I handed them over to another mentor who was going to the bathroom and called it a night. 

That's how you survive camp. You go and go and go and go. Then when you know you can't be there to watch over your mentees you let another mentor take over. It's like tag teaming. Since my girls were in a group of 7 friends, there were 3 mentors between us to watch over them. Sometimes I would lead 3 or 4 girls back to the cabin, sometimes I'd hand both my 2 over to another mentor. Just as long as everyone was on the same page, everything was fine. 

It was also like that for supplies. 

"I need soap, does anyone have soap they can spare." 
"Yah I have an extra bar I brought that you can have." 

"Does anyone have extra shampoo?"

"Does anyone have a hairband?" 

"Does anyone have an extra blanket?"

Maybe it's because 80% of the people at camp were female -making 80% of the mentors WOMEN, but everyone was taken care of. Everything was shared. Saturday night when I got my bed situated and was about to go to call it a night another mentor came over and gave me an extra blanket just because she thought I might not be warm enough with mine. I borrowed Bonnie's hair tie. Brenda borrowed one of the extra conditioner bottles I brought. Vy offered to take my empty dinner plate and Linda's after we'd finished eating. Padma gave me her marshmallow at the camp fire because she doesn't eat gluten or sugar or something. 

We were always sharing and always making sure everyone had what they needed. It really started to feel like a community at the end.

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