A View From The Mesa: Mentoring youth improves both lives

The kids are out of school this week.

You have to love February in Southern California, where "winter recess" translates to afternoons in the park and playing outside until dark.

This year some of the kids in our Westside neighborhood will take part in "ski week," when one of the police officers takes the teens snowboarding. I am excited that they are headed out to experience something new and make some memories with adults who care about them.

I remember the youth leaders who took me skiing in Mammoth in the winter and to Lake Havasu in the summer. I still call them when I am celebrating or making a big decision.

When the trips were over, and graduation had long past, it was the friendships with these older, wiser and "cooler-than-my-parents" adults that endured and became a foundation in my life.

I am seeing this hold true in the lives of my young neighbors. Mika's dance team dissolved years ago and just this week our youth development director got a call from one of our student artists, now an adult, looking for some guidance.

A mom of one of the teens now-turned-young-man called to ask me to hunt him down and reel him in. A volunteer emailed to say she is still tracking with a gal who has been in and out of rehab centers.

When it is time to hug the ground, "our kids" turn to who is stable. As we go through life we collect resources and "our kids" know that we are here for them, just like I still turn to my youth-leaders-turned-friends.

Last weekend I sang a karaoke duet with a friend who used to be one of "my kids." It was her first time singing karaoke and it took me by surprise how proud I felt of her. Karaoke is a silly thing, but seeing her beam with joy as she belted out the song made my heart swell.

I remembered how long and hard this road to joy has been. I thought of the times it seemed pointless to keep pouring time and energy into caring for her.

Now she beams. Friday we will go together to Vanguard University, where we both take classes — colleagues in school and in community service.

What a privilege to be at this part of the journey with her! It is a great joy to receive graduation announcements and wedding invitations and baby news of students we have walked with over the years.

We celebrate. We write about it in the papers. But walking these long roads is painstaking.

There are no guarantees that there will be a celebration at the end, or how long it will take for the joy to come. One person can only walk this road with a small group of young people. And there are so many young people who need someone to walk with them.

I have been thinking a lot of a line from the movie, "About a Boy." A young kid is being raised by his single mom. He keeps hounding his neighbor, a single, jobless guy, to spend time with him. The young guy says to his neighbor, "Two is not enough." He needed more in his life than what his mom could give.

I think of it as I attempt to walk with my neighbors: "Two is not enough!"

We need more people willing to walk this road of joy and pain. We need more people willing to take the long view and risk what could be. Who are "your kids," the kids on your block, the ones you are auntie or uncle to, the friends of your children who are always around?

As we see them around, out of school this week, let us as a community re-up our commitment to stick with them for the long haul. If you do not have any kids around you, hit me up. I'll share "mine" — two is just not enough.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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