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.”

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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, www.bestfriendsnd.org or email Mark@bestfriendsnd.org.

“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.

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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 theholidayspot.com/friendship.

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: http://facebook.com/mylittlepony.

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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Small Deposits=Big Gains

By Mark Billings

Especially when working with youth, we never know when something we say or do will be modeled and replayed — either for the positive or negative.

As a youth volunteer and parent with three teenagers, I’ve seen the impact both ways. Sometimes when I have too many things on my mind, I’ll forget a detail only to remember it in my sleep or days later. Ironically, I see this quality in one of my sons. While preparing for a long road trip, we agreed he was to mow our lawn front and back the morning of our departure. The morning arrived, I raced into work to wrap things up in the office and bolted home. As I pulled into the driveway, my excitement quickly faded as I saw the uncut lawn in the front. Like something I may have done, my son had forgot to mow the entire lawn and only finished the back.

On a positive note, I was leading a youth class discussing servant leadership several years ago and suggested the teens memorize this acronym: Selfless, Empathetic, Resolute, Virtuous, Authentic, Needful, Thorough. I racked up our 20 minutes together as one more youth session until I ran into one of the teen boys at a high school last year, where I was substitute teaching. He said, “Wow, Mr. Billings, I haven’t seen you in a while.” We updated each other briefly on what we were doing and then he pulled out a torn piece of paper from his pocket with the SERVANT acronym on it. “See, I kept it,” he said, reciting each of the words.

Acting as a role-model, friend and confidante for someone doesn’t necessarily guarantee dramatic returns. But rest assured, young people are watching and listening to us. In some cases, they shine even stronger than us in some areas of character development. I have watched this video featuring the Olivet Eagles middle school football team with numerous groups of people. Did one of these players come up with their idea by watching a mentor engage in a powerful, virtuous act? How did the SERVANT character quality of Selfless take shape in a group of middle-school boys, who by nature can be self-centered? I hope this story inspires you to keep building positively into the young people in your life — as a volunteer and a parent, no matter the age of your children. Cheers!


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10 Ways to Show Kids You Care

Emily BrenSearch Institute lists 150 ways to make a positive difference in the life of a young person at search-institute.org. Here’s a sampling published in the June 2015 issue of Thrivent magazine:

Give them time to relax.

• Notice when they’re acting differently.

• Delight in their discoveries.

• Create traditions and keep them.

• Give them a special nickname.

• Build something together.

• Ask them about things they love to do.

• Celebrate their firsts and their lasts.

• Follow when they lead.

• Apologize when you’ve done something wrong. 

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The Power of ONE

You can be the change a child needs to succeed!

Thrivent Financial recently published “It Just Takes One,” an article by Michelle Crouch on the power of mentoring and the difference caring adults can make in the lives of children:

“In Phoenix, two high school students have upped their grades and missed fewer school days. In Fort Pierce, Florida, a foster child has more supervision in a better home. And in St. Louis, a teen found her career goal. Their stories may seem unrelated, but these children have one important thing in common: an adult who cared about them. A growing body of research has found that an adult role model can make all the difference in the life of a young person…..

“Any caring coach, teacher, aunt, uncle or—of course—parent can help put a young person on a path to thrive, experts say. Search Institute, a nonprofit research center that studies young people, outlines five key actions that can help you help kids.Match at the lake fishing

1. Show you care.

Tell children you care—and show them, too. Be consistent and dependable, especially if you’re working with at-risk youth. They don’t have a lot of constants in their lives, says Jean Rhodes, Ph.D., a mentoring expert and professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. And pay attention when you’re with kids, says Kent Pekel, president and CEO of Search Institute. That means putting aside your smartphone and focusing on what the child does or says. Thrivent Financial Representative Carl Etzler coaches high school softball in Convoy, Ohio. He invites players to share what’s going on in their lives. “A lot of young people don’t have an adult they can talk to, so I do a lot of listening,” Etzler says.

2. Challenge growth.

Kids do best when you set high expectations for them, pushing them out of their comfort zones while still supporting them. “No matter how good they are, we must push them to continuously improve,” Pekel says. Challenge them to give up a bad habit, ace a test or learn something new. Thrivent member Lindsey Schwartz mentors two at-risk high school boys in Phoenix. She started with a simple challenge: Go to class every day. Then she texted them daily as a reminder. Already, both boys’ grades have jumped. Schwartz says she’s working to change the way they see themselves. “I like to tell them, ‘You’re not a bad kid. You’re a good kid who made some bad choices. I can see the potential in you.’” Pair such encouragement with limits, Pekel says, whether it’s banning curse words or setting a curfew. Remember, kids—even teenagers—need clear boundaries. Establishing limits allows kids to feel safe, creates predictability and reduces anxiety. Most important, it shows you care.

3. Provide support.

You probably already praise the child in your life for efforts and achievements. Unfortunately, not all kids have someone to praise their work—or fight for them when they need it. Thrivent member Felicia Bruce serves as a Guardian ad Litem in Fort Pierce, Florida. In that role, Bruce serves as a foster child advocate in the court system. In one instance, Bruce learned that a teenage girl in her charge hadn’t been to school in five weeks, yet the school didn’t take action. Bruce got the school to draft a plan to better meet the girl’s needs. She even drove her to school on occasion. “She could easily have been one of those statistics about foster children who get lost in the system,” Bruce says.

4. Share power.

Here’s a simple yet powerful step: Give kids a voice and a choice. Listen more, let them direct the conversation occasionally and take their ideas seriously. “It sounds easy, but, in fact, it happens shockingly seldom these days,” Pekel says. “A lot of kids have their lives very heavily structured and scripted by adults.” For Schwartz, sharing power means letting the boys she mentors help choose the activities she does with them. For Etzler, it means getting team input on community service projects.

5. Expand possibilities.

Introduce kids to new possibilities and ideas— through outings, books and even conversations. That’s what Thrivent member David Kober of Edwardsville, Illinois, aimed for when he took the softball team he coaches to help with the Special Olympics last year. The event inspired one player to choose social work for her career. She later thanked Kober for helping her find her passion, reminding him why he’s stuck with coaching kids for 17 years. “I like being there for them. I can help them when they need it, show them what’s out there and encourage them to pursue their goals,” he says. “And when they come back and say I made a difference, that makes it all worth it.”

Michelle Crouch writes about finance, health and more for outlets such as Real Simple, Reader’s Digest and The New York Times.

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50 States, 100 Days: Welcome to Dickinson!

Today we hear from Chris Strub, an incredible young man taking an incredible journey to all 50 states and volunteering at one youth serving organization, who spent Tuesday morning at Best Friends Mentoring Program. Read more:

Hi there!

My name is Chris Strub, and this summer I’m visiting 50 states in 100 days. Today’s Day 54 — and I’m thrilled to let you know I’ve made it to NORTH DAKOTA!


Everyone gets to sign Chris Stub’s car when he finishes his volunteer work. Here he’s pointing to Best Friends’ message.

It’s been an incredible summer, visiting 24 states in 54 days — with lots more to come — but I’m extra excited to have been able to visit the Best Friends Mentoring Program here in Dickinson today.

I heard many of you ran or walked in the Family Fun Day 5K this past weekend. I’m sorry I couldn’t quite make it here in time — on Saturday, I drove solo from Missoula! — but I genuinely hope you take the time to learn more about the Best Friends Mentoring Program.

My work today can also help you learn more: you can add me on SnapChat, @ChrisStrub, and check out my interviews with the staff; you can ‘like’ my Facebook page to see photos and video from my experience; and you can go on my YouTube channel later tonight (@ChrisStrub) to see a full interview with Kris.

I hope you’ll stay tuned throughout the rest of my journey! There are so many wonderful organizations around the country making a difference with our nation’s youth, and I look forward to sharing with those organizations the lessons learned here today at BFMP.

I’ve gotta run — off to South Dakota! — but keep up the good work here!

Chris Strub's July travel and volunteer schedule!

Chris Strub’s July travel and volunteer schedule!

Talk to you soon,


Chris Strub
Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, Meerkat: @ChrisStrub


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