Nothing About Us Without Us

first-nations-group2010The recent youth suicides within Indigenous communities in northern Ontario are tragic and heartbreaking. As often happens when these dramatic events occur, community leaders, parents, teachers, and mental health agencies are often stunned, shocked and puzzled about what to do.

A typical reaction is to provide additional funding for existing mental health services and to fund other resources that are often associated with youth suicide such as poverty, hopelessness, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding and low levels of education.

Less likely to rise to the top of the priority list are peer programs where trained and supervised youth take an active role in helping other youth to deal with despair, hopelessness, fear, and trauma.

Peer-led interventions are more likely to positively influence the youth culture, speed-up the help and connection youth might need to professional services, connect troubled youth to safe, caring and compassionate peers, and provide the empowerment youth experience from being listened to, understood, acknowledged and supported.

The Province of Ontario is no strangerto evidence-based peer programs. For many years in the past, peer program leaders and consultants like Rey Carr, Diane Taub, Michael Peirce, Wayne Townsend, and Ron Jorgenson trained student peer mentors and facilitated train-the-trainer peer workshops for community leaders in that province (as well as every province and territory in Canada).

In addition, from 1990–1993, our group of trainers plus a dozen others created a national, Canada-wide program, known as “The National Stay-in-School Initiative,” that resulted in more than 30,000 peer mentors being connected to 100,000 students across the country.

Despite the hundreds of trained adult personnel and the thousands of students trained as peer helpers (many of whom have gone on to universities and colleges where they continued to participate in peer-led services) in Ontario, there are many rural communities that have yet to implement a peer-based service for youth.

I’d like to encourage readers of this SpiritMentor blog, particularly the Canadian readers, to write letters-to-the-editor or contact your MP and let them know that peer-led programs are not just add-ons, but are necessary elements to change peer culture to one of healthy, positive support and encouragement so that allyouth can live out their dreams rather than have their dreams thwarted by negative peer pressure and conditions over which they have little control.

Guest Post: Finding the Best Mentors by Wayne Townsend


Intelligent Leaders — Finding the Best Mentors


Informal Mentoring

When I was ‘on-the-road’ as a professional musician at the age of 18. I found it difficult to continue with formal percussion lessons with the best drummers because I was traveling too much to sustain a teacher. So, wherever I was located for the next gig, I would set up two sets of drums and invite drummers to play with me. (They were easy to find at each city’s music stores.) It is interesting that each drummer who played with me, learned many of my patterns (percussion vocabulary); yet, I learned many new techniques from each of them. Each mentor interaction provided me with more information about drums and percussion. This is “informal mentoring” at its best and it cost me nothing but my rehearsal time—smart investment. It helped me to stay on top of a very competitive market. The more versatile I became as a drummer and percussionist, the more work came my way. “Intelligent Leaders need breadth and depth.”

Finding Mentors

Although I was not aware of it at the time, I was continuously looking for role models. My father passed away when I was twelve and I kept looking for good people doing good things. I found many role models—some good and some struggling with life. I was quite deliberate in looking for behavioural responses that made sense—what to do and what not to do. All of this time, I was gradually developing the character of “me.” Informal mentoring can be powerful as long as you are open to it.

After university and three honours degrees, I entered professional life from a business perspective and learned about “formal mentoring.” I have been involved in Formal Mentor Training since 1985. However, I have been the recipient of informal mentoring my whole life. I continued to seek out people who were doing things that impressed me and I would ask them if I could speak with them about their work. Mentor questions came out quite naturally because I was interested in people and their work.

Mentor Training

In 1989, I was introduced to one of the best Student Retention Programs in the Province of Ontario by Tom Connolly with the Waterloo Board of Education. I was completely hooked. There was no turning back. Tom continues to be an informal mentor to me and he introduced me to Dr. Rey Carr, Peer Resources in Victoria, B.C. who developed the 3strongest “International Mentor Programs.” I trained in all of Dr. Carr’s programs: Peer Mentor Training, Mentor Training (Levels 1-3), Coach Training and Executive Coach Training. Then I followed with Cy Charney’s Mentor Management Training and ICF (International Coach Federation) training. Each of these connections added “breadth and depth” to mentor/coach training skills.

With all of this training and experience over a lifetime of mentor and coach training, I still believe that Dr. Carr’s Mentor Training is the strongest program internationally []. The foundational principles of his training programs are well researched, sound in practice and transferable to any setting. In addition, I have been using Carr’s closure procedure for years in many counselling and social settings. These mentor principles provide a process for strong, empowering and facilitative processes that move groups and individuals forward.

105+CoverFor Canada Day, Dr. Carr published a free ebook about Canadian Mentors and match-ups that reflect his lifetime of work on mentoring in Canada. He is an incredible mentor and role model.

Finding The Best Mentors

What I have learned about mentoring and coaching is that mentors/coaches are simply a phone call or email away. It is about getting to yes. You simply have to ask the question: “Would you be willing to meet with me for an hour so that I can learn about…?”

It is that simple at setting up an informal mentor. If you do this often enough, your learnings will happen. From those meetings, you might ask one of those informal mentors to be a more formal mentor. If by chance they say ‘no’ or they don’t have time right now, then your next question is: “Do you know of someone who may be able to help me with this area of learning?”

It is all about getting to yes and your personal professional development.

(Thanks for my friend and mentoring partner, Wayne Townsend for allowing me to share his post here. I treasure our relationship and it is a great example of how a true mentoring relationship shifts to where the mentor learns as much from the person he or she has mentored.)