Community and connection

Last week I gave the final workshop for the current crop of AdoptMent mentees. We decided to cap our transition curriculum with a tool for mapping out their support networks and maintaining strong connections with everyone in it. In the example I gave them of my own support network, I distinguished between the types of support I looked for in different individuals: I turn to my oldest friend to talk about family stuff, I turn to another for laughs, and still another for a shoulder to cry on. I also specified the medium by which I communicate with each person, since I’ve learned from my youth work that it’s vital to be attuned to people’s communication preferences (email, Twitter, text, call…).

Take a look at this young person’s community map. There is a lot here, but I especially want to call attention to her inclusion of her beloved Tio. Johanna continues to count on him as a source of support even though he passed away earlier this year. (I learn so much from my young people.)


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The second part of the workshop was supposed to be a tip exchange for how to tend to connections and deepen relationships. The adults are concerned that the young people may not be particularly proactive about reaching out to their mentors once the program is over. Over the last couple of summers, when AdoptMent is on hiatus, the young people complain about missing their mentors, but no matter how much encouragement we give them to reach out when they’re lonely, it doesn’t always happen.

So we were going to talk about scheduling reminders to check in, sharing both good news and bad, etc, but we got a little sidetracked. The workshops have been a bit off lately because all of us, adults included, are dealing with heightened emotions surrounding the “graduation” of this group from the program. It’s been necessary to be flexible with the lesson plan so we can make time just to process whatever is going on in the room.

The energy has been strange, to say the least. We are all, without exception, in denial, and it’s showing up in different ways. One young person has been “forgetting” about group, another insists on being sullen but refuses to leave when given the chance, another remains tight-lipped about what’s going on internally… The adults are trying to keep it together, though there is a lot of frowning, fretting, uncharacteristic giggling for release.

The winner was the reaction of genuine shock when it was announced that this last session was the final workshop before we say our goodbyes on June 12. We have been talking about this day since September, but it takes awhile for the reality of these momentous events to sink in. My friend April, who founded the program up in Harlem Dowling several years back, said that it took her a good six months after the first cohort graduated to fully process the transition.

I’ve been trying to give myself regular reminders, but still. I’m doing what needs to be done: lesson planning, coordinating, evaluating. In several days when I enter the room and don’t have to take my usual place at the head of the table, I probably won’t know what to do with myself. I’m a little scared that there will be crying, but I think it might be worse if we’re still all in shock.

The good news: There will be food. It took awhile for the young people to agree on the menu, but we’ve settled on fried chicken, mac & cheese, and green beans (there are lots of vegetable fans in the group!). Shantee will bring her usual cupcakes for dessert. Oh and Otis will be there! As will my husband, whose mentee has been missing him tremendously. The two of them began texting again after the last workshop. I think they’re going to start rock climbing together.

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