Overcoming The Fear Of The First Step
By Robert Shelden
We’ve published a series of posts about “Helping” in the past, and Robert’s discussion of CYAR (Colorado Youth At Risk) is a great addition to that series. Welcome to the forum Robert, and thanks for the contribution!
A number of years ago, I was exposed to a non-profit, youth mentoring organization called CYAR (Colorado Youth at Risk). CYAR focuses on transforming the lives of teenage students through community -based mentoring and intensive training. Like many people, I had a desire to “give back” to my community in some meaningful way and CYAR appeared to match my social values.
My first introduction to CYAR came when I attended their annual fundraiser dinner. The dining hall was packed with presumably other like-minded soul searchers. Midway through the meal, there was a gentle thump, thump, thump on a microphone and a meager “uh hum.” A petite, tattooed 19 or 20 year old young woman began to speak. Jennifer introduced herself as someone who – prior to her involvement in CYAR – was failing high school, doing drugs, and experiencing suicidal thoughts. As she told her story, the din of clinking forks and plates subsided, and conversations hushed. Jennifer continued in a cracking voice with remarks about hopelessness, despair, and despondency.
Listening to Jennifer, I found myself sympathizing with her struggles, though I certainly couldn’t empathize with them. Raised in an upper middle class home by parents who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I’ve never struggled with the kinds of hardships that she described, or known anyone who had. I don’t know what a broken home feels like. I’ve never worried about being beaten by a drunken father for casting a misinterpreted glance his way. I’ve never been touched inappropriately by “Uncle Jim.”
While Jennifer’s story inspired my interest to mentor kids and help, I found that I was more than a little apprehensive about whether I could possibly relate to kids who’d seen trouble I’d never experienced. Was there any way they could identify with me? Could I be of any value to them if I couldn’t relate tightly to them, and they couldn’t identify with me?
Next to take the microphone was Susan – Jennifer’s mentor. Susan made some powerful remarks about how much she’d learned from Jennifer and how the relationship had changed her life as well. Her words opened my eyes to the fact that giving was going both ways in this relationship, and I might get as much out of a mentoring relationship as I gave.
Driving home that evening, I thought about this pair’s experience with a different perspective. In some ways, Jennifer’s circumstance was unique and no doubt tragic. Yet, in another way, it was very much the same as what we all experience in our life. We all need help from time to time, and while Susan provided that help, she didn’t solve Jennifer’s problems. How could she? She couldn’t stop Jennifer’s father from drinking, or “fix” whatever was wrong in Jennifer’s life.
But through her wisdom, experience, and commitment, Susan provided Jennifer with the tools to cope with her problems on her own. I could relate to that. I could do that. I am doing that. As a parent raising teenagers, I can’t solve my kids’ problems – my only hope is to share tools that might help them good decisions and solve their own problems. If I can do my best for my own children, why couldn’t I do this for other kids?