Ask teenagers what marks their coming of age into adulthood and they might say their first drinking party, a pricey birthday celebration, getting a driver’s license, or having sex.
Mainstream culture offers plenty of fun activities to mark a kid’s march to adulthood, but some parents—and youngsters as well—lament that there isn’t something of deeper meaning to usher them. Here in the Hudson Valley, as in a growing number of communities nationwide, parents are seeking a mentoring approach to enrich their kids’ lives and celebrate their maturation.
Mentoring creates a network of adults outside the immediate family who help nurture a young person by taking an active role in their lives, often by teaching skills or knowledge while also modeling integrity, responsibility, and caring. Certain workshops and programs, too, are designed to include different age groups and life stages, bringing intergenerational groups of men or women together—for the benefit of the young and adolescent, yes, but also for the benefit and growth of all.
In this article, we hear from some of the men in our region who are part of a mentoring community that is supporting their sons. In a future article, we’ll look at what a creative set of women is doing to nourish their coming-of-age girls.
About 10 years ago, Charles Purvis of Accord was looking for a summer camp for his son Liam, and found one that really impressed him. Run by Jon Young and Mark Morey (themselves mentored by wilderness leader and teacher Tom Brown, founder of the Children of the Earth Foundation), Purvis was astounded by the quality of the experiences being offered during a week-long program.
“From the very beginning Jon and Mark built an excitement and curiosity—with a passion that propels one to dive right in.” And dive in Charles did, signing Liam up, as well staying himself for parents’ programs held concurrently—not just that year, but for four. After attending Morey’s annual gathering, The Art of Mentoring, Purvis was ignited to develop a mentoring environment for both his sons back at home, and several times sponsored visits by Jon Young and Mark Morey to New Paltz.
In 2007 Purvis joined with a group of other fathers who had similar visions for their sons, and their “Track and Sign” took wing as a school-year program specifically for a set of boys who were nearing adulthood. Cocreated by Purvis, Larry Brown, Peter Ferland, and Rolando Negoita, Track and Sign is now in its third year and continues to evolve and enrich as the older boys become men, and younger boys and their fathers in the community take an interest.
“What we try to create is a mentoring ladder,” Purvis says. “So we have boys who are 9 to 13, and then some older teens who have already been mentored in nature awareness, survival skills, cultural awareness, and rites of passage. We also have young adult males, in their 20s to 30s, and then the elders. As we become grounded in each stage of our group development, we add another aspect of community.” In a manner typical of men who are part of this community, Purvis quickly credits others. “I do things within a whole matrix of support. Each of the men provides a different gift. And the adult man can learn from the 10-year-old. It goes in both directions. I have been mentored in this journey, too, for 10 years. I’m in the journey right now.”
Track and Sign is primarily a learning and bonding medium with lots of action, says Purvis, because boys and men really enjoy doing things. But it’s much more. “The activities of Track and Sign are really designed to experience fun and adventure as we build our connection to the earth, to each other, to our own inner world, and to what we call spirit. We are offering a healthy container in how we speak, and in our actions, creating a safe space for the boys to journey. We create opportunities for knowledge of self—like knowing your fears, and your gift, and we create connection with the elements of life like water, fire, the seasons, weather. We also work with skills of living in nature: building shelters, getting clean water, fire skills, food preparation. We promote sensory awareness—feeling the sun on your cheek and the wind at your back, to be fully alive. This creates inspiration, hard work, experiential learning—which does naturally prepare the boys for a rites-of-passage experience held by the community, during their thirteen or fourteenth year.”