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Making A Difference In The Lives Of San Diego's Fatherless Teens

September 16, 2013 1:21 p.m.

GUESTS:

Craig McClain, Executive Director and Co-founder, Boys to Men Mentoring Network

Dana Wright, Principal, Spring Valley Middle School

Related Story: Making A Difference In The Lives Of San Diego's Fatherless Teens

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The stereotype of a San Diego surfer is about to be challenged by a surf-athon coming up this weekend. Young man of (inaudible) will be surfing and organizing the fundraiser to benefit the group Boys To Men is just one of the stereotypes challenged by the boys to men network. The program encourages at-risk kids to take charge of their lives and by the stereotypes that would limit their success. I'd like to welcome my guests. Craig McClain is executive director and cofounder of Boys To Men mentoring network. And Craig, welcome to the program.

CRAIG McCLAIN: Thank you, Maureen it is exciting to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dana Wright joins us. She is principal at Spring Valley middle school. Dana, welcome.

DANA WRIGHT: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Craig, will this be the very first surfing event that some of the men in the Boys To Men program have attended?

CRAIG McCLAIN: Absolutely. Some of them have never seen the ocean before. Some of them don't know how to surf. We started taking about 4 to 5 months out and teaching them to surf. It becomes part of the program to teach them to be a good man by teaching them things we love to do

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly and broaden their horizons.

CRAIG McCLAIN: Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Craig, what is the program and who is it aimed to help?

CRAIG McCLAIN: It's mostly for the deprived or five of those person-to-person boys are growing up with a father in the home and what we find is they get to middle school insert deciding what kind of man there going to be and without a role model they start making some bad decisions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of bad decisions are you talking about?

CRAIG McCLAIN: Drugs, gangs, crime, cop dropping out of school, getting bad grades.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is your particular decide to cofound the program.

CRAIG McCLAIN: Because I made the bad decisions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what happened, did anybody stepping in your life to provide the mentor role?

CRAIG McCLAIN: No, no and that's why I'm doing this. Because I do not want boys to have to do the same thing, to go down the same path I did which took me 20 years to get over that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you work closely with San Diego schools?

CRAIG McCLAIN: Yes we do and actually Dana is the first school Spring Valley middle school is the first school we went in for four years ago so we have a very close connection with Spring Valley middle school and in a she's been wonderful for the program.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what other schools? Is Spring Valley the main hub of activity?

CRAIG McCLAIN: We've been with Spring Valley for four years and we are expanding. We are now in 12 different schools and challenge (inaudible) pays for almost all of our programs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the surf-athon.

CRAIG McCLAIN: The surf-athon fundraiser.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me go to you, Dana Boys To Men, as Craig said was first at your school. What has the impact been like?

DANA WRIGHT: The impact is incredible. The kids at Boys To Men works with are the kids that are usually the standouts and they are the kids that take a lot of the time of the teachers of the staff, administration. They are making decisions that are disruptive to themselves and other kids. Many of them are just out of control. And Boys To Men comes alongside the kid Santos makes a huge difference. We just see a huge transformation that is, we can hardly wait now for them to get a hold of one of our young men math on the outside because we know we're going to see a great thing happened.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And when you talk about these boys being standouts, you mean they sort of disrupt class?

DANA WRIGHT: Completely. They disrupt class. They are disrespectful. Some of them are aggressive physically. They just don't know how to conduct themselves civilized in a way that helps them through and it is disrupting the school system. So it really takes these, they are very intense. Understandably so. Many of them are just angry. Very angry about what their life has become, where they are, they are confused. And they are acting out. So it is our job to come alongside them and help them. But we don't have the resources within the school system to do what Boys To Men can do. Our job is to educate them, get their academics there, and certainly develop them as people and encourage character and all of that as well. But, these kids need something deeper than that, and that is what Boys To Men, they can come alongside the boys, spend the time, mentor them, be the role models, the listening ear

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because if you as teachers spend all your time on kids who are disrupting, the other kids in the class suffer.

DANA WRIGHT: Exactly. Exactly. We have to stay focused on academics and the well-being of all the children so having boys to men there to partner with us and take these boys and they need something different than what we can do, to and we don't have the funding, the resources or the staff to do what they do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Craig, when we talk about at-risk kids it is a catchall phrase. I wonder if you could tell us some of the problems that you've heard from young man in your mentoring program?

CRAIG McCLAIN: I think all teenage boys are at risk, but especially boys with no role models and no community to support. And that is what we see a lot is they are missing both these elements so they have no good men to look to and that is really the ones that are the most at risk and if they don't have someone to show them, if they don't have someone to follow, if they don't have someone to watch out their dad treats women are how he gets up and puts a tie on and goes to work, they don't know how to do that. So what I see with these boys that don't have dads, they come to school and they are, they don't want to deal with authority. They don't know how to deal with female teachers and they act out and they're angry because nobody cares about them. They might have a good mom but that they are at the point where they need to have a man to show them how to be a man

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So why should they listen to you?

CRAIG McCLAIN: That's a good question. That's the premise of the program is we do not tell them what to do, we tell them what we did. And that is the way we started the program. The group mentoring program. We sit in a circle and there are six boys to one mentor me know, 30 boys and men sitting in the room telling the truth about the mistakes we made, the anger, sadness, the pain and where we really hurt as men and we say where do you hurt, young man? And they tell us.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know telling the truth is a really big part of your program. Why is that so important?

CRAIG McCLAIN: It is hard for me to admit the truth about us it's hard to say we are wrong. We are programmed as children to not cry. Big boys do not cry. So we hide all that. And the boys especially the boys without a dad say think being a man is about being macho. We go in and say being a man is about treating people with respect doing what you say you are going to do and taking charge and responsibility of your life.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So telling the truth to yourself about what is going on inside of you.

CRAIG McCLAIN: Absolutely and understanding who you are and how you treat people that we talk about in the meetings.

DANA WRIGHT: And that comes out in how they respond to us because I can give you story after story of the young men before they got into boys to men would be very disrespectful, deny that they had anything to do with their actions are whatever the occurrence is and after boys to men, the ownership and the truth and the humility that you see in these young men is completely, they approach when they make a mistake now it's a completely different response. It's workable. We can get past it. We can mind from that, move on, and it does not interrupt the flow. So it is really, that honesty is what changes what happens in those young men's lives and then in the school community at large because now those kids aren't pulling out. It's a tremendous difference in our school culture.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Craig, who are the mentors in the Boys To Men program?

CRAIG McCLAIN: They are just good men who care and we are a community of men so we are not just one-on-one mentoring but we go in and say hey do you want to join our team of good men you don't have to take the boy to the ballgame by yourself, you just come in and join us. And it's all sorts of men, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, firemen. It is just good men, and one of the main things we ask that misremember what you felt like as a teenager and can you give the support that you wanted to these boys and that's how we get mad.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do some of the mentors in the program have histories similar to you, of having made mistakes?

CRAIG McCLAIN: They all do. They all do. And some of them have made horrendous mistakes, some of them have been in gangs and some of the boys are in gangs. We want the community of boys represented by the community of men.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: right, you know it occurs to me most young boys, young man have some men in their family or their circle of friends so you would imagine they might be able to talk to, so why do you think these particular mentors in this particular setting are able to make such a difference for kids remaining in school and sometimes turning her life around, Craig?

CRAIG McCLAIN: Because they show up at daycare. Those are the only two things. They show up in care. And they listen to the kids. They don't tell them no, you're wrong. They listen and that's what these boys are looking for. A lot of these kids have never shot a man say I'm proud of you, son, and that's devastating for a young man.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if they get that in this men's group?

CRAIG McCLAIN: Yes and the men get to give that what they wanted from a mentor to the boys they mentor.

DANA WRIGHT: Yeah I'm always surprised I'm always saying what you get out of this, why do you keep coming for free, you come and help our boys and make this huge difference and they always say I get more out of it than the boys do and I just admire all these men.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dana, you were telling us a while ago that one of the reasons you were so pleased to have the Boys To Men mentoring program at your school is because teachers and counselors just can't provide the time. Tell us a little bit more about that.

DANA WRIGHT: They can take the time that we have to stay focused on the academics, the standards and all of the other things that we provide for students, but what these men is they really need somebody is going to take the time with them and understand their individual stories and I have phenomenal teachers, teachers by nature are nurturing and caring and very dedicated but they have 150 kids on the roster. So it really takes the man that can take them individually and spend that time with them. I think the other part that is really key, to is they take them away to surfing activities and and other things that these kids just have not experienced. And many, many I know it seems hard to believe but many of these boys do not have a male role model in their life much less one that would be a positive one. So, to have this group of men that is there for them and they, you know, they just do things that the kids can enjoy, they can actually be kids again. Many of these kids have been forced into an adult role of some kind. And they just don't know how to handle that. So Boys To Men lets them step back and be the boy again. As they develop the skills and to become good men. And I just get really emotional when I think about how these young men are going to grow up in the kind of men they are going to be because I just see a huge difference in them and the pride that they carry and the commitments that they talk about now. It is a different kid. It's a completely different From the student that came to our school and we met first.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Craig McClain, you cannot be involved in a program like this without realizing the disproportionate number of young black and Latino men who wind up behind bars. And I'm wondering how is your program addressing the needs of young men of color?

CRAIG McCLAIN: Well we want to be in every middle school in San Diego. That is our goal. And we want to be able to get to the lower five, 10% of the boys that are going to prison, 5% of the male population is in prison or has been and disproportionate black and Hispanic. So most of the boys or a good majority of the boys are black and Hispanic and that the majority of the mentors are white, but the boys don't care. So we are able to reach out to them in the school and a lot of them don't have parents that are really involved they would not enroll them in Boy Scouts or take them to the YMCA. We can get to them at the school and it really does change these kids' lives in a matter of months. Just having someone who cares. In a community. And the other thing that they get is, they hear their peers talking about the problems they are having, the same problems and they say I am not alone. That is a huge thing for these boys.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wish you would tell us a little bit about this fundraiser on September 21. This is going to be the fourth time you've done this?

CRAIG McCLAIN: It's the fourth time, yeah and it's 100 waves in 12 hours and we ask our surfers to raise $1000 to get 150 surfers out there this year and we are really doing well. We are at $90,000 and I think we're going to reach our goal. You can find out more about at at 100waves.org and they've also got a lot of boys from Dana's school that are surfing the event and trying to raise money so if you want to support those boys you can go to 100 waves.org and look under surf Angels and the boys and they've got some great stories in there, too.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Maybe we should wrap this up, Dana with one more story that you can tell us about what you've seen, the changes you've seen in a boy who's participated in the Boys To Men program.

DANA WRIGHT: I could tell you many, but there is one in particular that stands out right now because he just came back to see me a couple of days ago and he could hardly wait. He had my whole office staff trying to find me because he's the man that came to us very upset with lots of issues and we watched him over several years he now in high school he's gone it hasn't been easy he's continued to make choices we wished he hadn't but he did and he's living up to and owning but he's just now convinced the principle of his new high school to get Boys To Men on his campus and so now he just, he couldn't wait to tell me, he was jumping up and down and said I had to come tell you and I said well how many boys will be impacted by this now and he said 40 and I said well done. So he's an amazing young man we are really proud of him.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to thank my guests. Craig McClain, Executive Director and cofounder of Boys To Men mentoring network and Dana Wright, principal of Spring Valley middle school and the surf-athon is scheduled for September 21 from 6 AM to 6 PM in Mission Beach. Thank you both very much.

CRAIG McCLAIN: And a big thanks to Dr. Bronner's for sponsoring this event Dr. Bronner's Magic soap thank you so much they've been a huge supporter of the program.

DANA WRIGHT: Thank you.