Friday, January 24, 2014

Mentor Camp: Day 4

The last day of camp was Monday. Every teen there was asking, "When do we get to go home???" I was told by someone it was 12 noon. Then it was 2pm. Then it was 3pm. The one downside to being a mentor was that we weren't as in-the-loop with the times of activities as the mentor coaches. We were just as in the dark as the mentees. 

I figured I'd shower at lunch because I knew we weren't staying around for dinner. The one event that day that had been set in stone was the "returning home ceremony" from 5-9:30pm. I KNEW there was no way I was staying past 9pm. No way. 

The day started with the teens doing their 3rd and final run around the track through the woods. Then it was breakfast. Then course room. The teens were moaning that they wanted to go home. Screw course room! 

During the 9am-1pm course room session, a lot happened. First they read aloud the track times of the mentees. "John, on Sunday your run time was 15 minutes 46 seconds. Today your run time was 13 minutes 34 seconds. You improved your run time by 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Who was running today: You're player or your opponent?" The teen would then answer the question "Player" if their time had improved and "Opponent" if they were lazier on the run. "And who will run your life after you leave here today." 90% of the kids said "Player" aka "The Victor/Hero/Leader" outright. A few initially said opponent and then were lectured by the program leaders about being obstinate. One tried being honest and said "player and opponent" -and then she was also lectured.

Over the 3 days of jogging the trail, one of my mentees had consistently improved her time by about 2 minutes a day. The other improved her run on Sunday and then tanked  on Monday by about 5 minutes. I was proud of both girls for still being under 20 minutes for the run and participating in it. 

The pride I had for them quickly wore off however when they were given yet another writing task. From their journals they wrote in the day before, the mentees were to take their 3 positive "declarations of self" and write them on a wooden board that was being handed out. The wooden board was to be split down the center with a line. On the left was to be written the positive thoughts they usually tell themselves like: "I'm great!" "I can do this" "Don't give up". And on the right side was to be written the negative thoughts: "I can't do this." "I'm not strong enough." Given that ALL of this content was simple, strait forward, AND written in their journals you'd think it'd be an easy enough copy/paste situation. Not my girls. 

Again came the dead-eyed, hazy response of "What?" "Huh?" "What do I write?"... For 30 minutes. Then after their boards were done everyone got up and the procession was led out towards a new part of the camp we hadn't been to yet. I had to go to the bathroom. I asked my 2 girls if they needed to go. They of course said "YES". I then asked my mentor coach if I could take a bathroom brake. He said there were bathrooms right next to the building we were going to, but we'd have to rush ahead of the pack so we'd have time to go and return to the group.

So as the pack started moving, I tried getting my girls towards the front so we could make it. Then about mid-way I see them slipping behind because they were walking alongside their friends. So I looked at them and motioned for them to hurry up and said, "We need to hurry otherwise we won;t be able to go." So then Alicia and Karen come walking closer behind and one of the girls from their group asks where they're going and Alicia turns and says, "I'm going with mom." 

I seriously was like, DID you just say that? I was pissed. I'm going out of my way to take you to the bathroom and you're going to make that kind of remark? So I said, "Well if you don't want to go to the bathroom you don't have to." Then she went back to being quiet and followed along. I kept thinking, I am not your mother. If you were my daughter, things would be very different. I am not your counselor, I am not your judge, I am not your lawyer -I'm your Mentor. Period.

So we went to the bathroom and returned to the group which started filing into a small building that consisted of one big room. In the room were 8 "stations" of stacked cinder blocks. "We're going to teach you how to split the wooden board you've just written your declarations on down the center -to symbolically sever your negative thoughts from your positive thoughts."

So we got into a group and kept cheering for the mentee at the front to karate chop their board as they were being shown. My mentees became split -Karen wanted to stay in her current group because her friends were in it while Alicia wanted to veer to a new group that was less crowded so she could get to the front. As I'd seen her do countless times before, Alicia caved and silently followed along with her friends. Until suddenly a mentor coach grabbed her arm and started leading her to a station that had just finished and was now completely open. She hesitated, and looked back towards the station she had just come from. Then the karate guide started showing her how to make the moves to cut the board with her hand. 2 minutes later BAM! The board was split in two by a girl that weighs less than 90 pounds. I was amazed.

Then after the boards were split, the girls handed them to me to look after as they went on to their next exercise before lunch. Fast froward to after lunch back in course room another session that lasted until about 3pm when it was announced we were officially to head out back to the high school in San Jose. My stuff was packed in my car and I was ready to go -though less certain about how to get back. One last bathroom break, and we made the walk to the car. Getting out of the parking lot was fun because the other mentors and mentees were stopped alongside so we got to talk across the cars to them while we waited for the line to move so we could pull out. Then the program managers gave us snacks. A ham sandwich, a granola bar, a fruit drink, and chips. WHY did n't they give us a snack DAY 1 on the trip up???! The snack we got leaving was not needed.

The windy road through the woods was definitely easier to handle in the daytime. The girls started getting a little car sick, but I figured they'd be ok once we got on 84 Woodside and the road straightened out. There was a slight hiccup when I thought I had gone down the wrong road but then found out it was the right road and had to turn around twice. 80 Woodside sounds like a freeway -but then there's residential homes you pass by and it gets confusing because the road is not well marked. Am I on 84? Maybe I passed it? I'll turn around. Oh woops I was on it. I'll turn around. Yup this is 84. Now I look like an idiot yet again in front of my mentees. They'll never trust me to drive them anywhere ever again...

Finally I made it to 280 heading towards San Jose!!! FREEDOM! I made it back to the high school in less than an hour. Then we got into the school library and I thought we'd head to the gym where the celebration was being held, only to find out there was another activity before that. They had all the mentees get into a circle -standing side by side- facing out from the circle. Then they made the mentors stand around them in a larger circle -facing towards them. So now you're standing face to face with a mentee that isn't yours that you sort of know because she's spoken during the course room sessions and stated some things but you've never actually talked with her before. And the program leader announces -"We are now doing a silent activity. Just look into the eyes of the person in front of you. Let them know you appreciate them. Don't speak -let them know with your eyes. Maybe they helped you at camp in some way. Maybe they coached you. Let this person know what you mean to them..." 

For the first 15 minutes it was smiling, awkward glances away, trying not to laugh... then they started playing a sappy Michael Jackson song. It was hard to stay focused. Then after about 25 minutes the mood shifted and I really tried "reading" the person in front of me. I figured it was a good time to practice being psychic. What did I "see" in the person in front of me. Mostly I saw sadness. Even when they were smiling you could see sadness. With a few people I had more of a weird spiritual experience. With some of them it was like looking in a room for something, but with others they could tell you were looking in them and they looked right back and searched in you -which was kind of off-putting.

One of my mentees wouldn't really look at me -just bored and uninterested and awkward. The other smiled and stared back at me more directly. Some of the mentees were crying and I remember trying to convey the message to them, "You're strong. You'll be fine. You'll find peace." With others who had tears in their eyes but tried smiling because they didn't know me and they didn't want sympathy or judgement I tried to convey, "It's ok. You can be sad. I won;t judge you." This was the kind of connection I had with the last girl and instead of holding back she let her tears fall more. Then the music stopped and it was announced that the person standing in front of us was the one we'd walk into the ceremony with -side by side. 

So then we were ushered out of the room -two by two -and made our way to the gym which was lined with parents, relatives, and supporters of the youth. At this point in time I knew Karen's mom would be there, but I wasn't sure about Alicia's. "Sometimes the parents don't come and the mentors end up taking them home." We were told that some of the parents really don't care about their kids and won't feel like it matters to be there when they return home. I hoped Alicia's mom would come so I could meet her.

We filed into he auditorium and took our seats. There was about 20 minutes of talking by the program leaders about the mentoring program and camp. Then the mentees were given the opportunity to stand up on stage in front of the 200 people there and say what they'd learned from camp or what they wanted to share. It was the most emotional part of the 4 days we experienced. The teens got up there and cried into the microphone saying things like, "Mom I'm sorry I've been disrespectful to you. I love you and I want to change. Please forgive me." Then they'd get off the stage, walk to their parents who were standing in the audience, and embrace them. 20 kids spoke. Then the parents were invited so speak. 5 did and said how much they'd missed their kid and how proud they were. Some said they could see the change in their behavior already and were grateful to the program. 

Then the mentees were called by name to the stage and handed certificates for completing the camp. Then it was food time. I didn't eat the food though. I had other concerns. I had accidentally left my purse in the library and was worried it would be locked up in there. I also wanted to make sure Alicia's mom was there -otherwise I'd also have to take her home. Problem 2 was solved first. I got to meet Karen AND Alicia's moms. I loved Karen's mom instantly -very positive and welcoming. Alicia's mom was a lot more stand-off-ish and didn't say much. Kind of a "why are you talking to me?" attitude. 

Then Problem 1 was solved and I was able to retrieve the check the women's group Jos and I founded had written out to the mentoring program non-profit. We had raised $1200 last year for 3 causes and this was one of them, so I presented the $400 to one of the program leaders who was very surprised and happy about it. Then I called it a night. I made it home at 9pm, got some of my stuff unpacked, and crashed. So ended the long saga that was camp. Sort of. I was sick with a runny nose and a sore throat from Monday - Thursday. 

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