Boys to Men is a mentoring program for teenage boys based in San Diego County. The program provides an empowering rights-of-passage weekend that challenges the boys physically, emotionally, and spiritually. These challenges help them to wake up to their purpose and form a vision for themselves. The mentors who work with the boys help hold the teens accountable to achieve what they want from their lives.
Boys to Men addresses a real crisis for today’s adolescent boys. Given that 32% of the children in the United States live without their father, there is no one to provide these young men with healthy role models. Statistics show us the possible consequences of growing up without a father:
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
- 90% of all homeless and runaway youths are from fatherless homes
- 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders are from fatherless homes
- 71% of high school dropouts are from fatherless homes
- 75% of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers are from fatherless homes
- 85% of rapists motivated by displaced anger are from fatherless homes
Beyond the statistics, what Boys to Men so valiantly succeeds at is shepherding these young men at critical moments in their lives. Mentors reach out and tell the boys that they are worthy and that everything will be ok, which is so deeply appreciated by these boys and exactly what they need to hear. Many times, these messages from older male role models come at a turning point in the teen’s life, and work to change the course the teen has been unsuccessfully traversing. The grown men share with the younger ones their own experiences and life lessons, and then trust the boys to make their own decisions. Once the boys are truly heard, their self-esteem rises, and they become empowered to change.
Craig McClain, Co-Founder of Boys to Men, reiterates, “These guys don’t have a role model or sounding board to teach them what it is to be a man. There is nobody to show them how to meet societal expectations. Not having a father, really wounds teenage boys. They hold onto so much pain. They need a man to tell them that they’re ok.”
Many of the mentors understand this wounding because they’ve lived through it themselves. The boys mirror back to the mentors a younger version of themselves. Working with the teens take the men back to their own battlegrounds and address deep personal wounds, often for the first time. Helping these boys heals themselves.
The program began 14 years ago when Joe Sigurdson and Craig McClain decided to take 14 neighborhood boys out for a camping weekend with a few men they knew from a men’s support group. Through sharing and self-disclosure, and then witnessing the leaps and bounds these boys took after the first weekend, the men immediately knew this was important work. Joe and Craig decided to move forward with more wilderness experiences.
Craig explains, “We didn’t know when we first started how many boys are growing up without men in their lives and the damage this causes. So many boys don’t get the support they need which often leads them to making the one wrong decision that changes the rest of their lives. We step in before those decisions are made.”
Joe and Craig make the experiences completely optional. Boys can’t be coerced by their mothers or schools to attend. They have to want to participate themselves. The Boys to Men message is that “It’s a battle to be a good man. If you want to fight that battle, we’ll do it with you.”
Boys to men has grown one site at a time, providing boys with two to three wilderness experiences year. Mentors participate in the weekend and are so impressed with the process and how boys want to talk about their emotions and secrets, that they take the model back home with them. They believe in the young men, and realize that it’s simple to put together a similar experience back home.
Founders Joe and Craig are passionate about their cause in shepherding fatherless boys during their important teenage years. Craig used to have a rewarding career as a professional photographer. After seeing how life changing the rite-of-passage initiation weekend was for the boys, he quit his job and started working for free. Even though 2011 marks the first year where he earns enough to make ends meet, he describes himself as “the richest man I know.” Joe has held on to his day job but pours every second he can into his passion, Boys to Men.
Joe and Craig have high hopes for this year’s fundraiser, the 100 Wave Challenge. On September 24th, hundreds of surfers, stand up paddlers, body boarders and body surfers will attempt to ride 100 waves in 12 hours. Each surfer will raise $1,000 through pledges and donations to support Boys to Men.
The idea originated with Joe, who has been surfing since the age of ten. On Christmas morning of 2009, he caught between 25-30 waves. Amazed at the experience, he wondered how long it would take to catch 100 waves. And then he thought about people pledging for every wave he rode. This lead to the idea of asking his surf buddies to catch 100 waves and have their friends and families support them. A great day of riding waves at the beach could turn into a fantastic fundraiser as well as spread awareness of how much fatherless teenage boys benefit from Boys to Men. In September of 2010, the First Annual 100 Wave Challenge took place raising $70,000.
This year, the challenge is back with an all new level of sponsorship and a fundraising website. Surfer schwag giveaways include Nixon watches and Oakley sunglasses. Souplantation has stepped in and Rubios will be serving up some fresh Mexican grilled foods like they did last year. More of the industry is involved at an entry level as last year’s event helped to establish new relationships and laid the ground work.
The technology angle has been completely revamped this year. A support group helps surfers register and set up their webpage so friends and family can submit pledges online. There is an additional catchy and simple website advertising the event that includes a Twitter feed and a link to the organization’s 100 Wave Challenge wall on Facebook.
Volunteers have proved to be invaluable in media exposure, event planning, social media and participant recruitment. Much of the footwork includes canvassing parking lots and talking to surfers. It’s a great deal of work and follow-up which is fueled by the passion that the organizers and volunteers share.
When asked for advice, Joe believes that signing up for the 100 Wave Challenge has to be a personal invitation. Additionally, someone needs to walk the surfers through registration as soon as they’ve agreed to participate in order to seal a commitment. Further, it greatly helps to make the cause personal for the surfers so they understand the magnitude of change they can help make, and how much these boys need help. Knowing and feeling this ensures that they will be successful advocates when approaching donors for pledges.
This year, the organizers hope to raise $200,000. This will enable them to update from four locations to eight. Currently, they are located in schools in San Diego County. They need funds to provide services. $200,000 will give them enough funds to open four more centers. Craig explains, “This will give us money for the year. If we get this, we won’t have to do another event until next year and can focus on what is important. That’s really what it’s all about… giving these guys the opportunity to be good men.”