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The importance of relationships in children’s lives

From the Harvard Center for the Developing Child comes a brief, insightful video on how children’s mental health develops.

Science tells us that the foundations of sound mental health are built early in life. Early experiences—including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers—interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain. Disruptions in this developmental process can impair a child’s capacities for learning and relating to others, with lifelong implications.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that mental health problems in children look and act differently than mental health problems in adults. A child’s developing brain is quite different from an adult brain full of experiences.

This edition of the InBrief series explains how improving children’s environments of relationships and experiences early in life can prevent initial difficulties from destabilizing later development and mental health.

Thanks to our friends at The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring for sharing this resource.


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I want to continue giving back

But now I need your help.

Chris Strub group

Three weeks since my cross-country trip ended, and I’m 100 percent determined to continue helping however I can. As I express in this video, I learned so much that I’m having trouble figuring out what to do with it all.

I want to continue to help in as big a way as possible, so this week, I launched an Indiegogo campaign, with a goal of speaking with 100 more nonprofits in a month’s time.
To make that campaign a success, I need your help, in two ways.

1) Identifying nonprofits that could use social media help. Organizations should contact me via email,, or even on my cell phone, (516) 818-3040. I’m offering an hour of one-on-one time to talk through anything they want to know about social media, regardless of their level of expertise. Please feel free to forward this email to any nonprofits that could use some help!
2) Consider making a contribution to my campaign. I *hate* asking, for anything, really. But one thing I learned this summer is that the best nonprofits know how to ask, and they are not shy about asking. So here’s my ask: I gave up everything this summer to highlight organizations that I had no previous connection to. Between traveling, volunteering and video editing, I spent almost every moment of my summer dedicated to that cause. For a contribution of $10 (or more), I will film a personalized thank-you Twitter video; if I have a memento and/or t-shirt from your organization, I’ll be sure to include it. (There are other perks listed on the page as well, feel free to check them out.)
This Indiegogo campaign will allow me two very important things: 1) to continue to give back to even more great organizations, and 2) to pay my rent, grocery and electric bills.

I hate to ask, and I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t in serious need right now.

If you are unable to contribute, no problem — another way you can help is writing a LinkedIn recommendation. (Thank you, Victoria, Kristyn, Wes, Nicole, Jeanette and Terri!)

Keep in touch; as always, let me know if there’s any ways I can help you; and thanks for your time.

(516) 818-3040

Categories: Commentary, Volunteering | 1 Comment

Chris Strub: Post Road-Trip Life

Decisions, decisions …

I’ve decided my goal is to effect even more change. Can you help?

Best Friends’ blog readers will remember Chris Strub, who visited 50 states and did 50 service projects in 100 days and included Dickinson and our mentoring program in his stops back in July. He’s completed his 100 days and sent this update:

Hi guys! Sorry about the delay in touching base again — the “slog” of a job search takes quite a bit out of a guy. (However, it’s still much easier physically than driving 200 miles a day for 13 weeks!).

Chris Strub's July travel and volunteer schedule!

Chris Strub’s July travel and volunteer schedule!

One thing that I had very little opportunity to do while traveling was sit down and think about what happens next. Thankfully, having now had that time, I know exactly what I want to do:

I want to help introduce a national organization, and its chapters, to new audiences through social media.

The single biggest lesson that I learned this summer is that EVERY organization has an amazing story to tell — whether they recognize it or not. Some do a better job telling their story than others, and that’s where I know that I can help.

For a guy who loves storytelling, the idea of working for an organization with locations nationwide is a dream job, because you’ll literally never run out of content to share. The inherit similarities between chapters from state to state, or time zone to time zone, provide potential for magical, world-changing stories that people love to consume.

New mediums like Periscope, SnapChat and Meerkat leverage video to allow us to tell stories in ways previous generations could’ve never imagined. (We will, of course, not abandon the “old” Twitters and Facebooks of the world, but work to build seamless, cross-platform messaging.) And with a collaborative, strategic approach, we will deliver, with a unified voice, impactful anecdotes from chapters big and small.

Many of you saw first-hand the power of these new platforms from my personal channels; imagine the gravitas and impact we can have with a carefully thought-out strategy, plus the built-in influence of a national organization. (And imagine how much more efficient my efforts will be when I’m not sleeping in my car every other night :-D).

I put in a colossal amount of effort this summer to make this trip a reality, and to inspire volunteerism on my own.

It was fun, but now it’s time to think bigger. I want to bring that passion, that energy, than enthusiasm to a national office. I want to deliver results. I want to help you move the needle. I’m rested (finally), relaxed and ready.

So — how can YOU help me get there? If you thought my visit was valuable, you can write me a LinkedIn recommendation. If you work for a national organization, you can help me get this message in front of decision-makers. And, please, you can always keep in touch — I love texting and keeping up with how things are going at your organization. My cell is (516) 818-3040.

– – – – –

I know this email is a bit long, so I’ll be quick with the other news: I wanted to sincerely thank Bill Michener (Lincoln, Neb.), Robin McHaelen (Hartford, Conn.), Louis Kines (Charleston, S.C.), Wes Davis (Wilmington, Del.) and Charlene Blackstone (Las Vegas) for participating in last week’s five-part series of Blab discussions. If you’d like to check out the replays — each one lasts about 45 min.; Bill’s was a bit shorter — just click on the person’s name. (Note: I don’t have any additional Blabs scheduled right now, but if YOU are interested in doing one with me, let me know and we’ll make it happen!)

If you don’t already ‘like’ my Facebook page, please do — you can revisit photos and videos from all 50 states. Looking for content ideas? Feel free to re-share the content from my visit — you can mention that the trip was successfully completed! It’s also likely I have additional photos from my time at your organization — if you email me, I can look and see if I have any additional stuff you can use.

Categories: Commentary, Volunteering | Leave a comment

My Mentor, Every Day, Dressed up like a Giant Bird

Mentors do make a difference. Read about Melissa Reese’s mentor and how he changed her life in this article just published in The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring:

PR & Social Media Specialist at Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations

An Unlikely #Mentor
Sep 1, 2015

My mentor was someone on the fringe of the field that I thought I wanted to work in, and happened to be employed by my favorite sports team. He was disorganized, but knowledgeable. He was a personality that stole the show and could command a room. He was still young enough for me to relate to, but old enough to be wise and give great advice.

My mentor, every day, dressed up like a giant bird. sports bird for blog

Drexel University’s Co-Op Program gives students the opportunity to complete three internships before graduation. I landed my first co-op – at 19- in the NFL, through this partnership. Working in the team marketing department for 20 hours a week, this job was to simply help the mascot schedule community appearances and act as a handler. Occasionally, I drove a marked company vehicle.

From day 1, the man behind the mask told me that a pro front office (and sports in general) was not a place I should be if I wasn’t ready to work hard. He had seen too many interns come and go looking for new best friends, QB husbands, and a chance at their 15 minutes. Interns were restricted to minimal time and interaction with other departments; and limited opportunities for advancement.

Despite no promises, I dove headfirst into this internship. I didn’t know what it meant to have a great work ethic, but apparently he saw it in me. Then, he gave me an opportunity unlike any other. He welcomed me into a boys club: I became part of the game day intern team, worked summer training camps, and all special marketing related events. He constantly introduced me to co-workers and high level executives teaching me to network like a pro – today, these connections work in professional sports all over the country.  I was given an opportunity that could be taken away with one mistake, and I wasn’t willing to let that happen. My simple 6 month co – op turned itself into a spot on my resume that spans four years.

I took away a lifetime of memories and friends – but there are three things that have stayed with me from this unique experience. Above all else, my mentor taught me:

Act like you belong: Every job has its rock stars and every industry its heavy hitters. Keeping your cool and not becoming a #fangirl in high pressure situations is key to blending in. Walking the same halls as Pro-Bowl bound receivers and Hall of Fame level running backs presented situations where acting the wrong way, or saying the wrong thing could place your job in jeopardy.
My mentor first tested my ability to adapt one day by introducing me to a 6’8″ offensive tackle. I passed.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have: So… in a bird suit? Not quite. My mentor constantly reminded me that if I looked and acted like “just an intern,” that is how I would be treated. Instead of thinking of myself as “just an intern,” I made sure that my appearance in the office was of the same level as others in the department. Sure, we had our days outside where a team polo and khakis were acceptable, but this job gave me my first taste of dressing for a respectable professional office environment.

Be absolutely fearless in everything you do: When you dress like a giant bird, you dance like EVERYONE is watching. Climb to the highest part of the stadium and trust that the zip-line will control your flight. Take a risk and throw the ball deep on 4th and 26 (you might just get lucky) or go for the extra 2 points even though it was blocked on the last attempt. No matter where my office is now, I constantly remind myself of the actions taken by my mentor during my internships and let go of the fear that holds others back.

melissaI can honestly say I would not be the person I am today without the guidance and experience I received during my very first internship, from an incredible mentor. The doors were opened here because someone believed in me, and allowed me to learn from the best.

Categories: Commentary, Mentoring Ideas, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Discussing Politics Contributes to Positive Youth Development

From our friends at the Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring comes this post from Professor Connie Flanagan:

“Editor’s note: We are delighted to have a guest commentary Professor Connie Flanagan. Professor Flannagan of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She is the author of the excellent new book, Teenage Citizens: The Political Theories of the Young (Harvard University Press).We asked her whether mentors and mentees should ever discuss politics. 

“It is very appropriate for mentors and mentees to discuss politics. And not just every four years.  National elections are moments in history when political issues and the direction we want the country to go are on the minds of most Americans.  But it is everyday, not every four years, that young people crave discussions of meaningful topics – and politics is one of them. In the past twenty years I have asked youth as young as 9 and as old as 20 and from a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds to share their thoughts about political topics – such as what democracy means to them, how they feel about immigration, or why inequality exists. No matter what the topic, those youth who discuss current events and politics with adults know more about and can discuss the issue from different perspectives. This is important because people who see issues from different perspectives tend to be more open-minded, tolerant, and less extreme in their positions.

“If a mentee raises a political issue, the mentor should ask the young person what his/her opinion is on the issue and why. This helps the youth to clarify where s/he stands, what s/he understands about the topic or might still need to learn. Listening to the mentee’s views also sends a message that his/her opinions are worthy of respect, that adults should pay attention and take those ideas seriously.

“Mentors should share their point of view as well. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree, as long as the exchange is respectful, political discussion is a way to deepen understanding. When mentors discuss political issues with their mentees, they can show that disagreements don’t have to divide us and that politics doesn’t have to be bitter. Citizens can work together, despite our differences. But listening and compromise take practice and politics often engages our passions. If we want the younger generation to be informed and to vote when they’re old enough, we should engage with them in civil discussions of politics and current events when they are young.

“Democracy is not the business of government.  Democracy is the power of people to author their lives, to decide together what kind of society they want to live in. And young people should have a voice in that discussion.”

Categories: Academic, Commentary, Mentoring Ideas | Leave a comment

Give the gift of yourself

By Mark Billings

An integral part of the Best Friends mentor training and placement is a one-on-one, face-to-face interview with each candidate. These sessions typically span 20-30 minutes and generate interesting responses from potential mentors.

One of the questions we ask quite bluntly is, “Why do you want to mentor?” After completing a lengthy application, background/reference check, and a two-hour training session, the question is designed to peel back any facades and determine the candidate’s true motivations for mentoring.

I wanted to share paraphrased responses from two young men who applied to become mentors over the summer. Contemplating the question, they thought for a moment and replied in a surprisingly selfless way focused on the next generation:

“I had a brother who was in your program. He spoke so highly of his mentor and truly looked forward to their time together each week. I want to be known as someone who is making an impact on someone.”

“I have known others who have been high school mentors. It looked like fun and a way to give way back to someone who might be struggling like I was from time to time as a kid.”

While none of us is perfect, we possess unique talents and gifts — personal qualities which can help guide, support and advocate for youth. Is your life making an impact? Will anyone from outside your immediate family remember you for the time and investment you made? Watch this inspirational video as you consider becoming a mentor! We have an immediate need for 10 men to volunteer for one hour per week in the Dickinson public elementary schools through the end of the 2015-16 school year!

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More Than Pencils and Paper

Help kids succeed: Become a mentor

As kids head back to school this fall, some will need more than basic school supplies to succeed. They will need the help of a caring mentor to fit in, to make friends, to succeed socially and academically. Right now, the Best Friends Mentoring Program is looking for mentors who can give as little as an hour a week to a child.

Mentors make a difference: Best Friends Mentoring Program operates in southwest North Dakota, serving at-risk youth who need extra adult attention in order to be successful. Youth may be in a household headed by a single parent or affected by a deployment of a parent, parent(s) who work a lot, a family dealing with a traumatic event or illness, or other factors that indicate a child would benefit from a mentoring relationship with a caring adult.

Mentors make a difference: In the past 20 years, Best Friends Mentoring Program has worked with nearly 1,000 school-aged youth. During that time 94% of them have improved their attitudes, social skills, behavior and academic competency. Nearly 100% have graduated from high school.Match at the lake fishing

Mentoring works because a mentor is a trained and screened volunteer, someone who isn’t required to be there for the child but wants to be there. A mentor is someone positive outside of the child’s family who cares about the child. A mentor is a role model and a guide, a friend who shares the same interests. Mentors play a powerful role by promoting healthy relationships, reducing negative behavior, helping students set goals and preparing for life after graduation.

Mentors make a difference! Read what Ashley, 14, a mentee in Kansas, has to say about her mentor:

“There is no way words by itself can express my gratitude towards her. I met her through my scholarship program a few months ago and I did not realize it until now how appreciative I am that I have met her. She has helped me see that laughing and just hanging out with friends can be a great cure whenever I start feeling negative. She is so optimistic that I don’t have a reason to not smile when I hang out with her. She means a great deal to me, just knowing that I have someone to turn to who I know can cheer me up and yet understand me whenever I feel low. Even if we just get together to see a movie or just to eat out, I still feel this burst of confidence that someone is willing to be there for me even if she doesn’t have to. I’m grateful that I have this amazing opportunity to have a mentor as great as her. She has taught me to just view the glass as half full and not let that affect me. I will treasure her forever.”

Do you have an hour a week to help a child? Contact the Best Friends Mentoring Program at 701-483-8615, or email

“Making a positive difference in children and families, one at a time.”


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Some helpers more effective than others

Common Factors in Helping Relationships

There are certain “common factors” cutting across all helping relationships that seem to account forCommon-Factors-Jean-Rhodes-PHD1-181x300 most of the improvements. The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring recently published this article by Jean Rhodes on how common factors  account for most of the improvements in psychotherapy and how those lessons can improve the practice of mentoring. “These common factors include such things as: a close relationship with a therapist who is warm and respectful; high expectations for client success; opportunities for self-expression; opportunities to learn and practice new skills and behaviors.

Listen to the podcast.

Others have argued however, that, although those factors are necessary, there is clear evidence that certain approaches are more appropriate and effective than others for treating certain problems (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety). Yet, despite 30 years of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and dozens of meta-analyses of these clinical studies, the notion that common factors are what account for change prevails. Psychologists Budd and Hughes have argued that this stalemate may stem from the fact that our evaluations and meta-analyses are better suited to the task of identifying the common factors than to isolating and measuring specific approaches. This is because unlike highly controlled randomized clinical trials of drugs, relationship processes are subtly influenced by so many variables (e.g., the particular difficulties of the person being helped, the dynamics and personalities involved in helping relationships, the broader context), that it difficult to isolate the effects of a particular approach on a specific symptom or outcome.

Still, the authors reflect, much has been learned about important “common factors” from the 30+ years of meta-analyses in psychotherapy. Here we highlight what they consider to be three of the most important lessons. The implications for mentoring are clear:

1. A therapist’s commitment to a particular intervention approach strongly predicts predictive of the effectiveness of that intervention.

Implication for mentoring:

  • Mentors should be presented with a convincing rationale for why particular approaches to working with youth are recommended.
  • Mentors should not be asked to rigidly follow lessons plans, etc. but instead be encouraged to use-evidence-based strategies in the context of personalized formulation that the mentor is invested in.

2. Across all different approaches, the most robust predictor of outcomes is the quality of the helping relationship.

Implication for mentoring:

  • Researchers should continue to explore the factors that promote close relationships.
  • Match support providers and mentors should be encouraged to carefully monitor the quality and progress of relationships and to quickly redress any problems that arise.

3. Some helpers are simply more effective than others.

Implication for mentoring:

  • We should systematically hone in on the approaches of what we observe to be particularly effective (“expert”) therapist and mentors, since their routine practice might shed useful light onto the nature of successful mentoring.
  • The practices should then be tested using more traditional research designs.
  • Beyond initial training there should be ongoing coaching in which we essentially “mentor the mentors”.

As we move toward greater precision in the science of youth mentoring, we have much to learn from common factors that have been identified in psychotherapy research.”

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International Day of Friendship: a Day for Best Friends

From Kris, our executive director:

“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg

even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”

Bernard Meltzer.

(Bernard C. Meltzer was a United States radio host for several decades. His advice call-in show, “What’s Your Problem?,” aired from 1967 until the mid-1990s.)

Do you have a Best Friend? Here at Best Friends Mentoring Program, our mission is to find a mentor my little pony Lucy & Ethelfor every child who needs one, to make a difference in that child’s life. So on the International Day of Friendship, remember your Best Friends: make a call, send an email… and let them know what a difference they make in YOUR life!

“According to The Holiday SpotFriendship Day is dedicated to the bond of friendship and companionship and is celebrated on the first Sunday of August every year. The occasion began as a small event, to commemorate the relation shared by friends. Today, it has taken the shape of a grand festival. Over the passing years, the festivities related to Friendship Day have become even more colorful. The exchange of gifts, flowers, friendship bands and greeting cards has become an important part, rather, a tradition of Friendship Day. Apart from the exchange of gifts, partying all through the night is one of the recent developments of Friendship Day which is seen largely among the youngsters.”

Read More about Friendship Day at

Created by the Greeting Card Industry

International Friendship Day is a day for celebrating friendship, according to Wikipedia. From Wikipedia: “The day has been celebrated in several southern South American countries for many years, particularly in Paraguay, where the first World Friendship Day was proposed in 1958.

Initially created by the greeting card industry, evidence from social networking sites shows a revival of interest in the holiday that may have grown with the spread of the Internet, particularly in India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Digital communication modes such as the Internet and mobile phones may be helping to popularize the custom, since greeting friends en masse is now easier than before. Those who promote the holiday in South Asia attribute the tradition of dedicating a day in honor of friends to have originated in the U.S. in 1935, but it actually dates from 1919. The exchange of Friendship Day gifts like flowers, cards and wrist bands is a popular tradition of this occasion.[1][2]

Friendship Day celebrations occur on different dates in different countries. The first World Friendship Day was proposed for 30 July in 1958, by the World Friendship Crusade.[3] On 27 April 2011 the General Assembly of the United Nations declared[4] 30 July as official International Friendship Day. However, some countries, including India,[5]celebrate Friendship Day on the first Sunday of August. In Oberlin, Ohio, Friendship Day is celebrated on 8 April each year.[6] It is one of the most popular events of the world especially to the youth community who want to dedicate this complete day to their most special friends by sharing friendship day quotes and playing games like the Invisible friend[7] (a variation of the popular Secret Santa).”

Something Fun

Do you have a best friend? Remembering back to childhood and more recent pop culture, there are a number of best friends that come to mind. A couple of my favorites are Lucy and Ethel (from I Love Lucy) and Bert and Ernie (from Sesame Street, of course). And WHAT FUN: Hasbro, Inc. has come out with new My Little Pony figures (and who doesn’t remember having fun with all the My Little Pony figures) to commemorate well-known Best Friends. Read more on the web page:

my little pony Bert & Ernie“A global, pop culture phenomenon, the MY LITTLE PONY franchise from Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ: HAS) has remained deeply rooted in the value of friendship since it first launched more than 30 years ago. To commemorate the International Day of Friendship, the brand is celebrating famous friendships with one-of-a-kind MY LITTLE PONY figures honoring notable friendships throughout entertainment history. From timeless television personalities to familiar childhood characters, the MY LITTLE PONY brand brings fan favorites to life for the first time as ponies, including beloved best friends from TRANSFORMERS, Sesame Street, I Love Lucy, Clueless and Laverne & Shirley!”

“In addition to creating the custom MY LITTLE PONY figure collection, to honor the importance and magic of friendship Hasbro has teamed up with generationOn, the youth division of Points of Light, on a global service campaign that uses the core cast of characters from the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic animated series to teach children about helping others. The initiative invites children and their families to celebrate friendship by completing acts of kindness and volunteering in their school, neighborhood, or broader community.”

Check out the My Little Pony Facebook page to see pony versions of iconic best friends:

Honoring and celebrating Best Friends: you can make a difference!

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Working Poor Families Left Behind

New Study Shows Uneven Economic Recovery Leaving Some Behind

A new study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that $1.7 million more  children are living in poverty than during the Great Depression. And even more distressing: the recent economic recovery seems to have side-stepped children and families of color.

The study should concern all of us — and especially policy makers — because these families are actually working. Generally called “the working poor,” these people are the fuel that makes our communities what they are. They make necessary the contributions, providing the needed labor, and contribute to our quality of life. They are your mechanics, your wait staff at restaurants, your construction company’s receptionists, your dental hygienists, your bank tellers, your custodians, your your customer service attendants and first point of contact almost anywhere that does business with the public.

North Dakota overall ranks seventh in child-well being, down one from a steady sixth place each year from 2012 to 2014. While our state leads the nation in growth of gross domestic product and per capital income, there has been little change in the overall child poverty rate since 2001, according to the North Dakota Kids Count Fact Book.  In Insights on Children publication, released in September 2014, Kids Count also reported that:

  • North Dakota has had the lowest annual unemployment rate of any state in the nation since 2009, suggesting that most children, including children living in poverty, have working parents.
  • In 2012 (the most recent reporting period) 76 percent of very poor children had a parent in the workforce.

Drilled down even more, North Dakota legislative districts 36 and 37, serving the city of Dickinson and Stark County (and parts of surrounding counties), had almost one-fourth of its families living in poverty, below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, in 2013. And this is during arguably one of the most prosperous times in southwest North Dakota’s history.

The 2015 Data Book, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, measures child well-being in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The Casey Foundation report finds that the rising tide of recovery, with both increased employment and more concentrated wealth, has left stagnant pockets of low-income, struggling communities and families, where a child’s future is anchored in scarcity and hardship.

Family assets make a difference to a child’s future and to the future of our communities. According to Kids Count, while a basic level of income enables parents to provide for their children’s day-to-day needs, assets — such as savings, home equity, life insurance and stocks and bonds — allow parents to offer their children a better future. Research shows that family assets (defined as total net worth and liquid assets such as savings and mutual funds) positively impact academic achievement in grade school, as well as college attendance and completion.


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