Turning boys to men

Over the past ten years, the mentoring network Boys To Men has been helping boys age 12 to 17 with the process of growing up.

"The thing we all have in common is that when we're very young ... we get wounded. Dealing with those wounds at an early age creates maturity at an early age," says Grant Williams, who was initiated as a mentor eight years ago.

To become a mentor, a man must pass an FBI background check and complete a 48-hour mentor training program. Upon completion of the training, mentors are paired with a boy in order to take part in the Adventure Weekend, the central event of the Boys to Men program which culminates with a 24-hour solo in the wilderness.

This "initiation experience" is designed to allow the boys to examine their lives in an open, honest and confidential setting. Boys participate in a series of "carefully facilitated" processes with the intention of uncovering hidden strengths and weaknesses; providing them a glimpse of who they are as men. The mentors strive to model the ideals of integrity, confidence and emotional intelligence. For many boys this is the first time they have had a positive male role model.

Williams will be going to South Africa this week with a group of four men and four graduates of the program, referred to as journeymen, to initiate a group of boys and mentors. Two of the journeymen, Aidan St. Claire-Bates and Eugene O'Brien attend high school in Ashland.

According to Williams, the young men are vital to this operation in post-apartheid South Africa. The inner mentor training involves the prospective mentors regaining an idea of what it is like to be a teenager and the journeymen's presence generally helps older men to open up more quickly. It is easier for the South African boys to relate to the journeymen because of their closeness in age.

"Taking Boys to Men global is huge," says Williams. "If we can get to these boys at a young enough age, where the 'wounds' have not yet solidified into impenetrable scar tissue, then we will have done a good thing. If we can show them that we care and convince them that they're worthy, then they won't grow up full of shame; they will know their value and will grow up to be loving people."

While the primary objective of their travel is to initiate new members, several excursions are planned to further allow the young men to experience the reality of South Africa and its history. They will visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, was held for 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner and Khayelitsha, an impoverished township outside of Capetown home to nearly — million people living in various levels of squalor.

One of the men on the trip will be Joe Sigurdson, a co-founder of Boys to Men. The group was originally the vision of Joe's father, Herb Sigurdson, who was once the head of Boy's Town.

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