Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Virginia Inc. celebrates its 10th anniversary in April | Crime News

On a Tuesday morning at Academy 360 in Chesterfield County, about 20 teenage boys quietly shuffled into a classroom. They chose a seat in a circle of chairs and took deep breaths together before each saying their name and a word that described how they were feeling at the moment. Many responded with “tired,” leading to the circle’s lead mentor saying, “Go beyond fatigue, stretch.”

Some of the teenagers then said they felt good, grateful and content. Each week, the same young men attend a morning mentoring circle hosted by Virginia Inc.’s Boys to Men Mentoring Network. Each circle starts the same, with a check-in and a single word to share feelings among the group. Sometimes they share truths or statements about themselves before moving on to an activity. Everything said in the circle is confidential.

On this particular Tuesday, truths were integrated into the activities of the circle. Loose sheets of paper were placed in front of each teenager, one piece in the middle. Everyone rose from their seats and stepped on the piece of paper directly in front of them. The person in the middle revealed a truth about themselves. If someone agreed with the truth, they had to swap places, but if there was no free seat, they ended up in the middle.

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The truths started off simply, from “I like the Dallas Cowboys” or “I like watching hockey” and “I don’t like school,” the latter of which had a lot of movement within the circle. Mentors in the group then began challenging the boys to dig a little deeper. One of the mentors first said, “I use humor to distract when I’m uncomfortable or nervous.”

A young man said he wanted a better relationship with his parents. From then on, the tone of the truths changed.

“Move if you’ve ever left your house because you feel unsafe”, “Move if you’ve ever slept outside because you can’t go home”, “Move if you haven’t seen your father for a long time.” did,” and “move if Boys to Men helped you this year,” followed.

Steve Martin, Boys to Men program director, said natural connections form within the circles. The young men with their male mentors experience a connection that is not only unique and genuine, Martin said, but also offers direction through life experiences.

Virginia Inc.’s Boys to Men Mentoring Network works with teenage boys in Chesterfield, Henrico and Prince George counties and the cities of Richmond, Colonial Heights and Hopewell. The group provides a safe space for young men to speak at length about what is going on in their lives with mentors and peers who will listen to them, believe in them, and help them make better decisions.

The Boys to Men Mentoring Network was founded in 1996 in La Mesa, California. A few years later, in 2002, Martin attended a Boys to Men Rite to Passage Adventure Weekend known as ROPAW in Frederick, Maryland, where he met another participant who wanted to bring a mentoring program to the Washington area DC. In 2008-2009, Martin began bringing people together in the Richmond area to host a boys-to-men mentoring program. By 2012, the local nonprofit was incorporated and started its first circuit at Tomahawk Creek Middle in Chesterfield County.

And on April 16, the mentoring program will celebrate its 10th anniversary. A ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at American Legion Post 354 at 4800 Welby Turn in Midlothian.

“[April 16] is a celebration and time for us to really take a break from all that we’ve been doing and to be able to take a deep breath and just look around and see how many lives have been impacted and touched,” Warren said McCrickard, managing director of Boys to Men.

In the last ten years, the program has helped 1,200 teenagers and around 300 young men this school year.

“We want to be inclusive,” McCrickard said. “What is said in circles stays in circles, so we want to provide an inclusive space. We are a place where we like to exchange ideas if there is someone who is interested and curious.”

There is also a sister organization called Girls to Women.

In addition to the weekly circles, Boys to Men youth can also participate in summer programs, summer circles and fundraising events, including quiz nights and an annual golf event in September. The mentoring program also provides training to adults in the area to reach out to the youth in their own lives.

In the circles, the mentors are members of the Boys to Men team, but also include local police officers, school counselors, business owners, retirees and civil servants.

“I believe our mission is to empower men in our community not to forget the youth who don’t have men in their lives,” Martin said.

At the end of this Tuesday morning’s activity, the teenagers were asked why it was important for them to share their truths in the group. Some responded that it shows that they are not alone in the things they are dealing with and could be helped.

Martin asked the group how they felt when they were alone.

One student spoke up, saying, “It makes me feel like the shortest person on earth,” while another said, “I feel like people don’t care.”

At the end of the circle, the boys took another deep breath and walked around to check how they were feeling. Gone was the murmur of fatigue, instead words like motivated, honored, very confident and the phrase “I feel better leaving than coming in” were in its place,

Circle work can help another child potentially open up if they don’t feel ready right now, McCrickard said. They may have been afraid to share, but hearing that another peer shares the same feelings can inspire them to speak up as well.

Marshall, a 15-year-old in the Academy 360 program, joined Boys to Men at the start of the school year. After losing both of his parents close together, he needed someone by his side to get through the next part of his life journey.

Joining the Circle has made coming to school more valuable than sitting in a classroom every day.

Tyler, 14, also experienced the loss of a parent, his mother, in recent months. After joining the circle earlier in the school year, he said, “This is the most inclusive school I’ve ever been to because of Boys to Men.”

“I didn’t know a lot of the guys at school and at first I was scared or intimidated by them, but when I meet them in circles I now know who they are.”

jnocera@timesdispatch.com

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