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Helping them grow

Life as a teen can be cool, but sometimes too cool — cold, in fact, because it can be hard to find someone to talk to, learn about your own feelings and experience really listening and being listened to, including getting to know and trust people outside your age group.

That's what mentoring is all about, say leaders in The Rose Circle and Boys to Men of Southern Oregon, two non-profit, volunteer groups whose members hold trainings, weekly groups, one-on-one mentoring, camps and games to foster values of friendship, trust, responsibility, honesty and communication.

The groups are presenting a Community Celebration Dance and fundraiser at 8:30 tonight at Standing Stone Brewery in Ashland to fund their efforts. Music is by Jerry Attrick and the Pacemakers. Suggested donation is $12.

"At its heart, this mentoring comes from a desire for a better community, bringing back that ancient feeling of a healthy village," says Leslie Lanes of Rose Circle. "Its value to society is teaching people to handle emotions, resolve conflicts and learn skills that contribute to a healthy community. If you look at the problems of society, most of them come from not having these skills."

The Rose Circle mentors go through trainings to develop their skills — and meet bi-weekly in a safe, empowering environment, she says, with teens aged 11 to 17. Older mentees can become junior mentors, helping teens a few years younger.

A small fee is charged for supplies and a scholarship fund. In summers mentors and mentees do retreat at Camp Luna, according to www.therosecircle.org. Both genders can be mentors or mentees, but mentors work with teens of their own gender.

Rose Circle Junior Mentor Natasha Brooks, a Southern Oregon University freshman says the group "taught me a lot about listening and voicing my opinions in a creative and respectful way. It helped me figure out my values and how I want to portray them in my emotions."

Many of the mentees from her circle as a younger girl have become close friends, Brooks says, because of the depth and trust developed in group.

"You have to really pay attention and take in everything they say. It's active listening and it's part of what they taught us," she says.

Although she didn't want mentoring and "had to be dragged" into the group, Junior Mentor Maile Raymond, a senior at Ashland High School, says, "I learned so much about myself, gained friendships and learned values I didn't know I had issues with. "It changed my life. I had issues with trusting people. I learned you gain trust in intimate gatherings."

Lanes, who now mentors mentors, said it's especially powerful and credible when older teens mentor younger ones and pass on what they've learned.

"It's a wonderful part of mentoring," said Lanes. "Younger teens love to be mentored by older teens and have them as role models."

Started in Ashland 10 years ago, Boys to Men is similar and served as a model for The Rose Circle, which started eight years ago.

"The purpose of Boys to Men," said John Fisher-Smith, one of the founders, "is to help boys move to adult manhood in healthy ways, particularly in emotional literacy, which is the capacity to express feelings and make it safe to share feelings."

Fisher-Smith, or "Grandfather Raven," as he is called, tells tales of one boy, aged 10, who, after a summer B2M camp, announced that he'd always wanted to talk about his feelings like this, but never had. Another boy, 15, perpetually wore long bangs covering most of his face, but after a B2M retreat "he lifted the hair off his face and went to school that way." Frequently, he notes, parents will report that a son suddenly is helping with kitchen and yard chores, without being asked.

"The value to society is that it makes wonderful people, better citizens and good friends — people who trust one another, have fun and learn compassion," says Fisher-Smith. "They learn that other boys suffer the way they do — pain, grief, loss, sadness, things they feel strongly about but have never been able to talk about. It develops trust and affection."

A member for six years, AHS junior Keb Bales says B2M was critical in helping him through the deaths of two siblings.

"They (group members) were my friends. I could just talk. It made me a better person," says Bales. "Every time, I came back with something new. I would see life in entirely new ways and think 'what can I do better?' I could look at the world and realize my life might be going through a rough patch, but humanity will need my help more than my pity. I can better the world if I better myself."

Seventh grader Taran McGuire of Rogue River reports, "I've learned to accept different personalities and to be more mature. I think about what I'm going to say before I say it."

Bullying is a huge topic at B2M, says longtime trainer-mentor Pete Young, adding to wounds of childhood that seem to get much healing in adult mentors "when mentors meet the needs of a child. It reframes that adult's childhood. It fills the loving cup and deeply affects family culture."

B2M offers a weekend Raven training for boys 9 to 12. It focuses on speaking "my truth," what to do about bullying, "healthy and toxic emotional foods," and what it means to be a man — along with lots of fun and games, according to www.boystomensouthernoregon.org.

"The boys list the qualities of a good friend (loyal, fun, respectful, got your back, kind, wild, crazy, safe, trustworthy"…) and we all agree to treat each other in this way on the weekend," says the website.

"It's very enlivening and brings the life force to the surface," says mentor Devon Strong. "A lot of it comes from multi-age interaction which is very uncommon in our society."

B2M also offers a Rites of Passage weekend for boys 13 to 17, focusing on changes and challenges leading to the new roles of manhood — and involving tests of endurance, courage and competence, according to the website.

You can view a YouTube video on B2M by entering "boys to men southern oregon." Both mentoring groups seek volunteers, who will be screened and trained. A portal for donations, as well as contact info are on the groups' websites. Lanes is at leslie@leslielanes.com. Fisher-Smith is at fish@opendoor.com.