Now in its fifth full year, STRIVE – CALM’s one-on-one mentoring program for high school boys – has settled into a predictable rhythm: training new mentors and recruiting new students in August, kicking the school year off with a cookout in September, having an overnight retreat for all students and mentors in October, going on a college visit on Election Day, and a throwing a party to celebrate the students’ successes in December. In between, students meet with their mentors on a weekly basis and talk about life: hopes for the future, present challenges, current goals and the steps to reach them, what it means to follow Jesus, family issues, etc. All of this and more are an effort to support the boys throughout high school, to see them graduate, go on to college or career, and become responsible and productive adults who support their families and themselves.
This year’s student-mentor retreat occurred October 14-15. Originally the idea of a STRIVE mentor four years ago, the semiannual retreat continues to be a popular activity where participants and volunteers strengthen their bonds and make lasting memories. As has become our custom, we loaded up the minibus on Friday evening for the half-hour jaunt to idyllic WatermarksCamp in Scottsville, arriving just in time for dinner. This year we brought eight students, four mentors, and for the first time, a guest speaker. After dinner and some free time, mentor and Trinity Presbyterian Church Pastoral Resident DJ Carter led the group in a devotional on John 3:16. The group then engaged in friendly competition in a series of field games, before concluding the evening making s’mores around a fire pit.
Saturday morning began with breakfast, followed by an exercise in communication led by author, trainer, and former CALM employee Eddie Howard. Afterward, students and mentors separated for breakout sessions. Inspired by a sermon by Geoff Maurer from Christ Community Church, I talked with the boys about responsible use of technology. Using 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 as a base (“those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them”), I noted that Americans spend an average of 10.5 hours per day looking at screens. All (myself included) admitted to struggling with this, and we discussed practical steps to keep God at the forefront of our minds. One student shared that he keeps his devotional bible on his dresser next to his lotion, so he always remembers to do his daily reading after his morning shower.
Meanwhile, Eddie spoke with mentors about how to connect with their students, build trust, nurture them, and empower them. The mentors asked questions like how to talk about potentially painful family situations (e.g. absentee fathers) with their students. Speaking from a wealth of experience and wisdom, Eddie responded that many young men are just waiting for someone to ask them about their pain, which is why it’s crucial for mentors to develop a close relationship with their student. Doing so allows mentors to broach delicate but important subjects, supporting their student not just physically, but emotionally as well.
Following a hearty lunch and more free time, the students and mentors engaged in a spirited battle of paintball. Some were first timers, some were veterans, but all enjoyed themselves in games like Capture the Flag and Zombie Apocalypse. All good things must come to an end though, so after cleaning our weapons, we gathered lakeside, took photos to commemorate the weekend, and boarded the bus home.