Beneath college pennants covering the walls of the Waimea Middle School College and Career Center cottage, a group of about a dozen men meet with about 15 students, sitting in a circle on folding chairs.
The men are there every Wednesday at lunchtime – listening, talking, laughing and sharing their life experiences – faithfully volunteering their time, making sure the boys have a consistent non-parent, non-teacher adult mentoring them during the year and throughout the summer.
“We are not trying to change the boys,” said Caleb Milliken, a mentor with the Boys to Men Hawaii program. “We focus on honoring and accepting the boys as they are.”
Milliken said the mentoring program helps boys 13-17 years old by showing them they are accepted and loved unconditionally by a committed group of men in the community.
“And when we do that in a good way, they are going to want to make changes in their lives (that help them succeed). The tactics are counterintuitive. It takes longer, but it is a whole lot more effective,” Milliken said.
The Boys to Men Hawaii program is mostly made up of men who are part of the Mankind Project – a nonprofit, nonreligious organization of peer-facilitated men’s support groups with a goal of helping men live lives of integrity by being accountable, staying authentic and serving others. Michael Bonahan, who leads the Boys to Men Hawaii Program, said he learned of the mentoring program after he joined the Mankind Project about four years ago.
“They are amazing men who are improving their lives and the lives of the people around them,” Bonahan said.
The Waimea Mankind Project decided to take on the Boys to Men program as their service project. The men met monthly at Bonahan’s home for mentor trainings.
“We have a great track record in the mainland – it is an awesome program,” he said of the Boys to Men program, “And it’s very exciting that we get to give back to the community in this way.”
According to Bonahan, during the mentorship training, the men go through a “Reclaiming Your Teenage Fire” process that helps give them a new perspective about what the students are going through, by exploring what they went through as teens. Each man not only goes through the mentor training program to get certified, but also goes through a complete background check.
“It took us about a year to get ourselves organized,” Bonahan said.
At the same time the Boys to Men Hawaii program was forming, Lori Ching, the family community outreach coordinator for WMS through a Connecting for Success grant, was looking for a mentorship program to introduce at the school. At one of the school’s Local Advisory Panel meetings, a parent recommended Boys to Men to her. Ching researched the program and was impressed with the results. She contacted Bonahan and they both agreed to try the Hawaii Island pilot program at the school.
“It was such a perfect match,” she said.
Boys to Men history
Boys to Men started in San Diego 16 years ago and now has programs in locations throughout the world.
In a recent exploratory study on the effect of the Boys to Men program on students done by the University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences, researchers found that Boys to Men enhances boys’ academic success, positively influences their behavior and influences changes in boys’ relationships, allowing them to communicate more effectively.
The study, entitled “Orchestrating a School Counseling and Community Collaboration: From Boys to Men,” found that students who were part of the Boys to Men program had improved grades, increased attendance, better school engagement and a better ability to get along with others.
“We are partnering together and embracing these kids,” Ching said. “I appreciate the extreme positive role models that they are.”
Matt Horne, principal of Waimea Middle School, said the Boys to Men program fills an important developmental asset for success that students need.
“The three components we focus on are rigor, relevance and relationships,” Horne said.
He said that rigor comes from a challenging curriculum, relevance comes from place-based connections and teachers fill the good relationships component, but a hole still remains. Horne said that the Boys to Men Hawaii program “fills the hole.”
“The kids know that a person is not paid to be their friend; that there is someone that cares about them and is interested in their future, and it gives them that drive and motivation to be successful,” Horne said.
The Boys to Men Advantage
According to Bonahan, the difference between Boys to Men and other mentoring programs is that Boys to Men mentors are volunteers, and the program follows a group mentoring model that describes the men’s experience, rather than focusing on one-to-one mentoring with individual boys.
The group mentoring model is probably the biggest piece,” Bonahan said. “We don’t teach. If a boy asks, we tell them what happened to us, and the consequences of our actions. We tell them our stories and the impact when we made certain choices. We always have a really great curriculum book that we do follow, but we follow the room more than the curriculum.”
Bonahan said the group mentoring is effective because the boys get to hear what other people are experiencing, and the student receives validation when they discuss their problems. By explaining what they went through in a similar situation, the mentor is helping the student develop their own plan of action if their problem comes up again.
During the Boys to Men Hawaii Wednesday meetings, the mentors and students have lunch together, then do a few group activities. They then “check in” and find out how each boy is doing, reviewing goals, past struggles and any other areas or challenges the boy wants to discuss.
Ananji, who is a Boys to Men mentor, said rather than give the boys advice, they help guide them to make good decisions with a series of probing questions such as, “What would you like to do better?” “If you had to do it again, what would bring you a better result?” “If a friend asked you that questions, what would you tell them?” They allow the boys to draw their own conclusions and decide how they plan to handle a specific situation next time.
Derek Stuart, one of the mentors who also owns Mega Camps, said that from the probing questions, they guide the boys to set realistic SMART goals – specific, manageable, achievable, realistic and time bound.
“Success breeds more success,” said Stuart. “Setting goals that aren’t realistic will do the opposite. The big thing is about believing in yourself, making good choices, being of service and being truthful.”
Mitch Evans, who is the vice president of the Boys to Men Hawaii, said he tries to reach the boys by giving to them what he needed as a boy.
“Speaking to the young men where they live is really important,” Evans said. “Not about where they should be, but about where they are.”
One of the students, after the meeting, said that he likes the program and would recommend it to his friends.
“We talk about stories and they see what is going on in our lives,” said the student.
The future of Boys to Men Hawaii
Bonahan said that already, there are plans to have Boys to Men Hawaii groups in three other schools on Hawaii Island, so they are now looking for men to volunteer to serve as certified mentors several days a month. Now, there is a trained Boys to Men mentor meeting with students at Kohala Middle School.
“Any person can become a mentor,” Stuart said. “Many of us happen to have been sitting in support circles with MKP, but anyone can be someone a young man looks to and will remember that person as having had a positive impact in their life for decades. It can be just one word. An acknowledgment. Just showing up voluntarily for a young person because you want to. That speaks volumes.”
The men are raising funds for the boys to attend a Boys to Men Adventure Weekend, June 6-8, which is a three-day training led by facilitators for the boys in the program at Camp Kilohana. They are flying in several certified leaders from the mainland to lead the Adventure Weekend, and the group is looking for sponsors to help offset the costs for camp rental, insurance, transportation, materials, food, and other expenses.
According to their website, during the Adventure Weekend the boys will experience a bonding time that will prepare them to handle events they will face during adolescence, and they will learn about integrity, mission and service. Themes for the weekend will include: “Who Am I Now?” “Who Do I Want to Be?” and “Choosing the Man I will Become.”
Bonahan also said there is an upcoming Maui Mentor Training from May 9-10, in Huelo, Maui, with spots still available.