I headed to Chief Sealth High School around 1:30 p.m., but stopped to get food and gas on the way. I arrived around 2:30 p.m. The students were arriving at the lunch room, from there to get security checked before loading up cars. Because I have the Magnum, we loaded my car up with luggage rather than youth. After that it was off to Camp Burton on Vashon Island. We arrived there around 5 p.m.
First order of the launch course was to set up cabin arrangements. I shared a cabin with four students, one Steps Up student (second through fourth year students) and one other mentor. Later, two more mentors who could not make an early arrival also joined our cabin. All boys. All the luggage had been packed in a couple of cars and unloaded in one big pile in the main camp activity room (which Steps Ahead called the
course room throughout). Everyone had to pick their bags out of that jumbled mess and lug it up to their cabins. Of course, the first order of business is to pick bunks. The beds were small and uncomfortable, but luckily were not set on old squeaky even more uncomfortable spring frames. Just wooden platforms with thin plastic covered mattresses. Next bit of business was to establish cabin rules: how much time to take a shower, who cleans, whether discussion after lights out is okay, that sort of thing. The primary one on ours was
The rest of the evening was filled with various
lecture-type course room activities. The program director stood up in front and talked about what Community for Youth calls
The Moves. Able vs. willing, life is a game and you are the player playing against yourself, that sort of thing. Interspersed in that were some get to know you activities. For instance, we all stood in two concentric circles mentors facing students. Every minute a bell would be rung and the students would move one mentor to their right. At each bell we were to each answer various kinds of get to know you questions: what pets do you have, what's your first memory, sing a line from your favorite song. I could barely hear anything though. The room had nothing to absorb sound. I have difficulty hearing anything above background chatter. With 30 kids and 30 mentors talking away my comprehension was about nil. And lastly, the staff announced the morning runs, at which almost everyone students and mentors all groaned heavily.
I should also mention the course room rules: name tags at all times, no two mentors sitting in a row, no three students sitting in a row, and no sitting in back if a seat is available in front of you. No starting until those conditions are met.
Seven a.m. Friday morning we were woken up. We traipsed to the course room for stretching. Then we lined up for a run down to the beach and back, for a distance of about a mile. I came in near the end for the men, with a time of 10: 30-something. I ran too hard at the beginning and had no energy at the end. I nearly puked after crossing the finish line. We then got to shower up and head for breakfast. Though my cabin had setup that first day so not everyone had time to shower prior to food. A little bit of free time after breakfast remedied that though.
First course room activity on Friday was more lecturing. In fact, the entire morning was spent in discussion. After lunch though, we headed into the woods for a ropes course. Essentially, some trust building exercises. A lot of what the weekend is designed for is to break people down, then build them back together with the group, so that folks will listen to each other and trust each other. And not just breaking down the students and getting them to trust the mentors. I mean everyone. The first real part of that was the ropes course. By trust exercises I mean the types of things you would expect. There's a falling exercise where participants must fall backwards from a height of about six feet to be caught by others. There's a wall where we all had to figure out how to get over the wall without any ropes. We did it by putting a couple of big mentors at the bottom who lifted people up who were then pulled up by the first person who got lifted up the wall. We neglected to remember that the big folks (me and one other mentor) wouldn't be easily lifted just by the guy on top of the wall. So I was stuck at the bottom and the station monitors even told us to quit because they didn't think we could get me over the wall. I must have tried about five different ways with maybe fifteen different attempts to get over. Just as the bell rang though we figured out how to get me over. Another activity was putting people through a web stretched between two trees without touching the web itself, and not being able to re-use holes in the web. This time we figured out to reserve an easy way for the last person to get through. And we were the only group to get everyone through the web. Last activity on the ropes course was to be led around blindfolded.
After dinner was another concentric circle game. Well, not so much a game. The purpose here was for mentors to assess the participation level of every student. And then for the students to assess the participation level of every mentor. I got pretty good reviews from the young folk, cause I had been making an effort to talk to all of them and to participate well. As hokey as many of the activities were, I figured
fuck it. Why not just go crazy? So I pretty much did. I got some useful feedback though from the circles, and made a couple of commitments. One was to stand in front of the room more often when there were activities that required people to go up front. Another was to play football with the guys during free time. I had sat on the sidelines and watched up til that point.
Saturday morning started off with another stretch and another mile run. We were to try to set goals to beat our previous times. (There was more to it than that, but that's the highlight.) This time I started off slower, but paced myself and didn't need to slow down or walk to keep moving. I went from 10:30-something to 9:07. A hecka-good improvement. By the way, the kids there use a lot of slang. Hecka and hella attached to various adjectives to indicate superlatives. D-dub, pronounced in a particular way. I don't think any of the kids had a meaning for the term, but they used it a lot as an interjection. Also, dipset. Again, I don't think they knew what it meant and I'm pretty sure neither did they.
More course room lectures and discussion followed that morning. The big idea in the morning was out of the box thinking. Nothing too amazing during that discussion, but it led into something for the evening. To illustrate out of the box thinking, mentor-student pairs took turns coming to the front of the room pulling a random object out of a box, and then acting out a short scene of their own choosing in which that object had to play a part, but that object had to be something other than it's plain, obvious self. I.e., a rope becomes a snake. Lunch wasn't a sit-down lunch on Saturday though. Instead, we grabbed plates, piled them up, and walked out and spent time one on one with a student. I think the idea was good, but some of the discussion was a bit forced at that point.
After lunch was a
confidentiality circle. Get everyone of the same gender into a room, and get each of us to tell something deep or intimate about ourselves that generally we don't share in public. Obviously, we're not allowed to repeat what other said there. I was kind of surprised that among the guys, they felt comfortable enough after two days to open up as much as they did. There was much crying.
After dinner we had a
stepping out of the box lecture and activities. The program director described some kinds of boxes in which people place themselves. Behaviors they default to rather than live life. I.e., fighting, or being the class clown. And then we had a couple of exercises where people came to the front and the program director used a method or two to draw out of them how they behave under situations and how that is fucking up their lives. And not the bullshit things that people tell themselves or others either. Some folks presented a behavior or two that they thought about. The mentors in particular came up with some bullshit things, trying to impress the students. No dice. The guy running the thing is good. He went for the jugular, and the mentors were broke down and stripped of inauthenticity pretty good. I didn't go up, but during this part I had an epiphany. Which I won't share here. After the first couple of people did it in front of the group, we broke up into small groups to discuss our own boxes. Or rather, try to figure out what they were. My group didn't get very far, mostly because a couple of participants tried to do it like the program directory did, and well, weren't as good at it. However, we did make some progress and I figured out the box that's been limiting me for years. Mostly I had it figured out during that aforementioned epiphany, but most of it I knew in one form or another for the last twenty years. Behavior I knew I do, but I'd never put it all together, and put it together with how much it affected my life and how much it meant to me. Yes, I cried. Rivers.
Anyway, I said I wasn't going to write about my epiphany and this here. Too much for this audience. Sorry. I will say this though: I've been saying for a few years that my dream was to open my own bookstore. I even believed it myself. But it's bullshit. I'd love to open a bookstore. It's a dream. But not the dream. The bookstore is on hold for a while now.
Sunday morning was another group stretch and another run. They didn't make me run this time though. In fact, I didn't get to run. I kind of wanted to though. The last run was for the students only. The rest of the morning and afternoon was devoted mostly to more on students and mentors figuring out what their box is. What their limiting behavior is. Steps Ahead requires everyone to commit to stepping outside of their box, to do something different. The final activity was a ceremony where everyone publicly declared their box and committed to giving it up. Some of them were asked to demonstrate their commitment. Many of them were very moving.
The whole thing ran over, so it was a mad dash to the ferry. Many of the cars didn't make the planned ferry. I did though. I didn't have any students in my car due to the luggage transport at the beginning. Just two mentors and one of the Steps Up kids. Dropped two of them off at the high school and drove one all the way home.
Conclusions. Holy shit. There's a bit of a cult-like aspect to the whole thing. But goddamn if I didn't see some real changes from some of the kids.
The terminology is a bit weird. Usually I prefer to use plain English, but the shorthand used there is useful. So I apologize in advance if some of the things I write about over the next months get a bit on the
using the inside terms side of things. Tough. My journal.
And I think that for the first time ever in the history of this journal, there's something about me that I don't exactly feel comfortable writing about publicly. This could be a life-changing experience for me. We'll know later, I suppose, if my life is changed. Anyway, don't ask about it. There's a small handful of people I'll talk to about it and I'll get to each of you shortly. Everyone else can maybe figure it out through the other stuff I write. And if I succeed, I'll tell everyone. Maybe I won't wait. But I'm definitely not comfortable writing about it now.
Thursday is when I get matched up with the student I'll mentor for the rest of the school year.