Friday, April 28, 2017

Recruiting for Kids from Hard Places

Several years ago, Tulsa Boys' Home had six mentors. Then mentors increased to about 110, although hundreds of other people have been trained, undergone background checks ($53 each), and approved by the Department of Human Services to work with the boys there on a regular basis. During the past 30 months, TBH has recruited 158 new mentors. 

Goals set by the organization as part of Tulsa's Vision 2020 are for the home to be self-sufficient and for each boy who wants a mentor to have one. Tulsa Boys' Home is well on its way to achieving its goals.

First, a little background from the TBH website. 

Each day, Tulsa Boys' Home delivers residential services to 64 boys and their families (when there is a family). Forty of our residents are placed by the child welfare division of the Department of Human Services, and the other twenty-four are privately placed by parents or legal guardians in our Substance Abuse Treatment Program. Since 1918, we have helped over 12,000 boys, many of whom have learned to lead happy and productive lives. Most credit TBH for breaking the cycle of poverty, abuse, neglect, and drug addiction from one generation to the next. Therefore, our work of healing and new found hope is multiplied many times over through countless families and the children of the children that once lived, and were healed, at Tulsa Boys' Home.  

Jeff Johnson, youth minister and volunteer coordinator, for the TBH, shared the basic strategy for gaining so many volunteers and mentors. Although this is a highly adaptable model for similar other programs reaching highly at-risk youths, we can all learn from Tulsa Boys' Home.

TBH recruiting is slow and steady. Johnson gives much credit to the Tulsa community, especially the faith-based population, which has demonstrated caring and concern not only for Tulsa Boys' Home but also other organizations serving youths.

Asking some men to volunteer as a mentor once a week for a year is intimidating. People are busy and may not wish to commit that much time. Next year, however, their children may have graduated, and the volunteers have established some rapport with a particular young man and wish to mentor him.

Ask friends to volunteer. Also ask groups, such as Sunday school or church groups. For example, Life Church in Tulsa has 175 volunteers and/or mentors. Asbury United Methodist, First Presbyterian Church, the Church at BattleCreek in Broken Arrow, and others volunteer consistently. Currently, the home has 500-600 volunteers. Of the 64 residents, all boys eligible to have a mentor have one. 

Establish dozens of small, scheduled opportunities for regular interaction and growing mentoring. Another example of an activity is on the second Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m., volunteers are invited to fly kites or participate in another activity.

Give trained mentors and volunteers something to do. Don't let them languish or search for an activity. 

Invite them to do what they love to do, e.g., beginning a running club this year that meets on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. 

Establish dozens of small, scheduled opportunities for regular interaction and growing mentoring. Another example of an activity is on the second Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m., volunteers are invited to fly kites or participate in another activity.

Many volunteers, though trained, approved and background-checked, aren't assigned a boy one-to-one. They are invited to fish, play ping pong, take a boy to church, go to a sporting event, or participate in other activities. For example, a volunteer who has tickets to a sporting event will call to take one or more boys along. Often, they form a natural relationship with a youth and decide to be a weekly mentor. Regardless, the boys benefit from all of the activities and the vetted volunteers. Then when a volunteer is ready to progress to mentoring, he is immediately ready to be assigned. Waiting six weeks for a background check and training is not an obstacle.

Turnover Although some mentors move to new mentees, others usually leave at the same time their mentees move. Some boys leave and return. 

Some volunteers are mentors in the beginning, but many become mentors after interaction and through activities. Whether they are mentors or grow into mentoring really doesn't matter. The residents of Tulsa Boys' Home are the benefactors. 

Congratulations to Jeff Johnson and the team at TBH!

Matt Vassar, Ph.D., a long term mentor at Tulsa Boys' Home, spoke eloquently about mentoring these young men for a previous post. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Beaver Dusters Mentoring & Speaker

At the instigation of Linda Downing, founder and director of Beaver Dusters Mentoring Program, Alton Carter, former foster youth, author, and speaker, spoke to students and faculty of Beaver Public Schools. 

With encouragement from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and the David and Molly Boren Mentoring Program, Beaver Dusters were able to bring Alton Carter to speak to the students in grades one through 12. All the mentors, teachers and students found his story to be tough but inspirational. When someone thinks his or her life is hard, he or she needs only to stop and remember how Alton grew up. He was the first one in his family to graduate from high school and later from Oklahoma State University. He never knew his father, and his mother and several members of his family were drug addicts. While very young, he knew he did not want to be like most of his family. At age nine, the Department of Human Services took him and his siblings away from their mother, and Alton later was sent to a boys' ranch near Perry. At the boys' ranch, Alton was guaranteed food if he didn't get cross-ways with the head master. Tough on all of the boys, the head master treated them like slaves more than young boys who could really use someone they respected.

Zavier and Alton Carter

Alton's Day 
He began by going to Mrs. Megan Stewart's fourth grade class. As a class project, Mrs. Stewart each day had been reading The Boy Who Carried Bricks, Alton's story. Mrs. Stewart told the class to close their eyes because she had a surprise for them. Alton went to the front of the room, and the class was told to open their eyes. In unison, they yelled out, "ALTON CARTER!" They were thrilled they actually met a real, live author. He spent 30 minutes with the class, and then grades four through 12 went to the auditorium where he spoke for over an hour. One high school teacher later commented that usually high school kids get antsy after a short while and even try to sneak a peek at their cell phones. That day all kids, grades four through 12, were spellbound for over an hour. Then he visited the lunch room but never ate. Instead Alton spent time talking to kids one-on-one. 

Alton's speaking to Beaver first through third graders.
Following the assembly, Alton visited with grades five and six, and again the kids had a lot of questions for him. From there Alton went to the primary building. Grades one through three huddled in the center of the room, and Alton visited with this age group for 30-45 minutes.

Alton in 2017
Alton resides in Stillwater where he lived as a young boy before being sent to the boys' ranch. He is the youth minister for Stillwater's United Methodist Church. Married, he has two sons. One son is in college at Oklahoma State, and the other is in high school. 

His Books
To learn more about Alton's book, see the link below. The gripping story makes readers continue--often in one sitting. Aging Out, his second book, is a continuation of his life after leaving the boys' ranch and then being in a foster home. In Oklahoma, foster youths are automatically put out of foster homes at age 18, and many end up homeless because no one cares. Emotional and social support ends abruptly. 

Alton Carter's website 



The loyal Beaver Dusters Mentors had donated for Alton Carter's fee, but Superintendent Scott Kinsey found money to pay for the day-long event that benefited students, faculty, and mentors. Everyone who heard Alton's comments throughout the day benefited in understanding the situations from which some youths come to school and how teachers, mentors, peers, and others can guide and support those youths even when they act out or don't believe in themselves. For example, two teachers--one female and one male--made a significant difference in Alton's life by not giving up on him no matter what. 

Within the mentoring network, Alton has spoken at Leedey Public Schools, Fairview's Mission Mentors' Appreciation Banquet, and Oklahoma Mentor Day 2017. Often when he speaks, he interacts one-on-one with students as much as possible.

Reading the book to or with elementary students over time is a best practice. Older students should read both books. Even if students are not from hard places, they need to be open and supportive to those who are. No matter from which hard place one comes, he or she can succeed. Someone--a teacher, mentor, coach, peer, or foster parent--needs to add some encouragement and, according to Alton, "plant the seeds of hope."

Thanks to Linda Downing, Beaver Dusters Mentoring Program, for her leadership, huge heart, and sharing this story.