Some days are just more special than others.
I learned that when I was a teenage boy working at Temple Akiba in Culver City as a day camp counselor. You may be wondering why a 15-year-old Christian boy would be working in a Jewish day camp. Well, my dad didn’t know what to do with me during the summer and one of his morning coffee crew suggested that I work in a day camp. Then another of the cadre of old codgers who met every morning for coffee and crullers at Primo’s Westside Donuts mentioned the camp at his temple. We went down there to meet the folks and I fit right in.
Having the name David certainly helped with my integration as most people just assumed that I was a member of the tribe. Spending a summer working with kids was a great experience and it helped me learn life lessons that I still use today. One of those lessons was that if you try something and have a good first experience with it, you are likely to want to do it again. We focused a lot of effort on being inclusive and making sure each child had a positive experience with each new game or project.
I was reminded of that over the weekend as I was at an event for an organization where I am on the board. Youth Mentoring Connection works with at-risk teens, pairing them with mentors to bring them into the workplace. As the web site puts it: “Youth Mentoring Connection is at the forefront of the mentoring movement, utilizing innovative ways to get more adults involved in mentoring programs. Our primary strategy is to bring kids to the workplace, making it as easy as possible for busy employees to participate and for kids to see professionals in action. We provide the expertise and guide the process every step of the way.”
Utilizing real world environments does two things, one it introduces the teens to a world they may never have seen before, so it’s an eye-opening exercise to expand their view of what is possible. Two, it demonstrates to the mentor that the process of changing someone’s life is not nearly as difficult or cumbersome as some may fear.
Each side has a positive experience, and that is what makes them want to continue down the road of mentorship. The relationship grows between the mentor and the mentee over time and exposure, and each becomes more than they were.
I saw this dynamic played out over the weekend at Will Rogers State Beach. Each summer the YMC works with surf instructors to teach a group of kids from the inner-city how to surf. So at 9 a.m. on Sunday there were a dozen or so kids getting into wetsuits and doing warm up exercises as they began the process of learning how to get up on a board for the first time. The teacher explained to the crowded teens the difference between “goofy” foot and “regular” foot when you stand on a surfboard. Soon it was time to get the kids in the water.
By the fourth or fifth attempt, many of the kids were almost up, but not for long — which is really the point. They were having a blast, trying something new, and by the end of the day would be able to say they learned how to surf, even if they never become the next great surfer. They had a great first experience, and will likely want to try it again.
Youth Mentoring Connection focuses on teens, a difficult group by nature to corral and get to listen, but on Sunday, watching the dozen or so surfers teach an anxious and excited group of teens how to do what they had never done, and have fun doing it, was a great experience. It brought back memories of teaching kids camp songs and games.
While I was chatting with one of the instructors, who told me this was his third year of teaching, I could see the happiness and joy by his big grin. The teachers come back year after year because they are getting something that money can’t buy. The rewards of teaching are frequently thought to be what the student learns, but more often than not, it is what the teacher gains that is the true benefit.
Which is where I believe the saying that it is better to give, than to receive comes from.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.