The Real Mentoring Gap

According to a recent study, children from affluent families have more informal mentors and the relationships last longer than youth from “bottom income sectors.” While that makes us uncomfortable, we can still do something about it by employing new strategies and learning more about this disparity. Read more in this article by Jean Rhodes from The Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring.
By May 18, 2015

The real mentoring gap—and what to do about it

Concept Vector Graphic- Two Hand Silhouettes Touching Each Otherby Jean Rhodes

If you haven’t already read Chapter 5 of the new book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”  you’re in for a big surprise. The author, Robert D. Putnam, is a Harvard sociology professor who made “social capital” a household word with his best seller, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”  This time he has turned his attention to class-based segregation and the widening opportunity gap between the young people in wealthier versus more impoverished communities.  To do so, he drew on data that were originally reported in MENTOR’s “The Mentoring Effect”.

First, Putnam highlighted the fact that, of the 66% of surveyed young people who reported having a mentor, over half had an informal mentor only.  Some (11%) had both an informal and a formal mentor while only 4% had a formal mentor only.  That bears repeating! Of the two-thirds of youth who reported having been mentored, fewer than 5% derived their mentoring solely from a mentoring program. What’s more, informal mentoring lasted about 30 months on average, compared to roughly 18 months for formal. So, combining frequency and duration, American kids get about eight times as much informal as formal mentoring.

This is a bit of a wake up call for those of us who have devoted so much of our careers to improving the quality and reach of formal mentoring programs.  We have been spending too much time under the street final-mentoring-chartlamp, and would do well to turn our gazes toward the caring adults who have been there all along. Indeed, mentoring has never been the sole province of formal programs.  After-school programs, summer camps, competitive sports teams, religious youth groups, and other positive youth development programs have always represented rich contexts for the formation of strong inter-generational ties.  Adults in these settings are often afforded extended, ongoing opportunities to engage youths in the sorts of informal conversations and enjoyable activities that can give rise to close bonds.

On the face of it, these data can be taken to suggest that there are already plenty of caring adults out there and that young people are perfectly adept at enlisting them as mentors.  And, that would have been a fair conclusion, had Putnam not revealed another important trend.  In his re-analysis of MENTOR’s data by social class, Putnam showed that, by an uncomfortable margin, affluent youth were far more likely to have informal mentors.  Indeed, with the exception of extended family members (which Putnam characterizes as typically strong but not as helpful in supporting new pathways), youth in the top socioeconomic status (SES) quartile report dramatically more informal mentoring across every category of adult.  The implications of these large disparities are profound.  Caring non-family adults are vitally important, helping youth navigate their identity, and opening doors to educational and career paths.  Yet, as budgets for teachers and extracurricular activities shrink, it is the youth in the bottom income sectors that suffer the most.  No one institution—whether families, schools, church, or positive youth development programs—can completely compensate for the social isolation that disenfranchised children and adolescents are increasingly experiencing, and each institution is stretched by the limitations of the others.  Wealthier communities can supplement their diminishing availability with private sources of support, but not so for those who need them most. As Putnam observes:

If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for American Children isn’t good: in recent years, villages all over America, rich and poor, have deteriorated as we’ve shirked collective responsibility for our kids. And most Americans don’t have the resources to replace collective provision with private provision.

This is the real mentoring gap—our nation’s most vulnerable youth have less access to caring adults outside their families, and fewer opportunities to engage with such adults through academic, community, and extracurricular activities.  To redress this gap, we can and should continue to expand the reach of formal mentoring programs. Indeed, although it is tempting to argue for a more caring society that would render formal one-on-one mentoring relationships unnecessary, it is a mistake to be anything less than vigilant in supporting a full array of resources for caring relationships with adults. This approach, however, is unlikely to ever keep pace with the widening mentoring gap.

Instead, researchers and practitioner are exploring new strategies to span this mentoring gap–most notably by empowering young people with the mindset and skills to identify and recruit caring adults from within their social networks. In a series of studies, my colleagues and I have demonstrated the efficacy of youth-initiated mentoring models.  This and other “connected mentoring” strategies can expand youth’s social networks and help them to make better use of the teachers, bosses, guidance counselors, clergy, and others that they encounter in their everyday lives.  Likewise, we are developing strategies to “stock the pond” –encouraging adults to approach everyday encounters with youth as opportunities for informal mentoring, and to support them with training that is grounded in research evidence.

Although more privileged youth and their parents have wider social networks, caring adults are out there, especially in schools. Unfortunately, many youth have neither the sense of entitlement nor the strategies to approach them.  Likewise, the adults who are in contact with youth do not always feel the moral imperative to serve as helpful guides. We need a campaign to mobilize adults to seek out opportunities to mentor the youth they encounter in their everyday lives. Research is also needed to refine and identify the strengths and challenges of these and other new approaches, and to evaluate their impacts.  By embracing such models, the field of youth mentoring has the potential to expand its reach and move towards a strength-based, empowering approach to promoting the well being of all youth.

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Mentoring is like Gardening

gardening photo for blogIs spring finally here? Last week we were trying to complete the first mowing of the season before the forecast of rain mixed with snow arrived in time for the weekend! That’s North Dakota: if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours and it’s bound to change.

Today’s commentary comes from our friends, Jean Rhodes and Belle Liang, at the Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring:

On Mentoring and Perennials

By Jean Rhodes and Belle Liang.

Spring is in the air in Boston and the flowers are finally beginning to bloom, so it seems like as good a time as any to share with you a commentary on mentoring that draws inspiration from gardening. It’s an updated version of a column that was written with my friend and colleague Professor Belle Liang, and a version appeared in Applied Development Science. As we note, since the goal of mentoring is the establishment of an enduring relationship with lasting benefits, a mentoring relationship is more like a perennial than an annual. With this in mind, we draw on the wisdom of perennial gardeners to set forth six principles of mentoring – akin to preparing the soil, seeding, weeding, feeding, persevering, and evaluating for the next growing cycle as set forth in Strauss’ (2006) The Gardening Analogy.

Lesson One: Prepare the soil – “As with most gardening projects, planning and preparation is best begun well ahead of planting time” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

In mentoring, preparing the soil involves pre-match preparation and training for volunteers, as well as for youth. Pre-match preparation may start with early identification of individuals who are not a good fit for mentoring work. That is, close, effective mentoring relationships seem to be facilitated when adults possess skills and attributes including: prior experience in helping roles or occupations, an ability to demonstrate appreciation of salient socioeconomic and cultural influences in the youth’s life (Hirsch, 2005), and a sense of efficacy in mentoring young people.

Besides pre-screening and selection, programs can also act proactively by setting appropriate expectations for the mentoring role, processes, and outcomes. For example, many mentors expect that an immediate bond will develop with their mentees and that the balance of the experiences will be more “fun” than work, or they assume their mentee will be grateful for the many sacrifices that the volunteer has made on his or her behalf. Such expectations can lead mentors to feel disappointed, unappreciated, and even exploited, especially early in the relationship. Young people are often brought into a mentor program because they have had unsatisfactory relationships in the past, and they may not know how to engage in a mutually satisfying friendship. Alternatively, adequately conveying to volunteers what they can expect from their mentee, the relationship, and the roles of each partner, as well as the difficulties that they might encounter can prevent some of these disappointments. Some practitioners have argued that such “full disclosure” might amount to scaring away potential volunteer recruits and, indeed it would be a mistake to delve into every possible way that a relationship can go awry. Yet, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, where, in an effort to recruit more volunteers, many programs overemphasize the enjoyable, social aspects of the endeavor. Despite these messages and expectations emphasizing the “fun” aspects of mentoring, the fact is, volunteers who work on youth development issues have reported other motivations for their involvement, especially the desire to increase their understanding of themselves, others, and the world around them. Ultimately, when the actual experience of mentoring aligns with their motivations or expectations, volunteers are less likely to drop out prematurely.

Lesson Two: Seed – “Plant the seeds and seedlings in the soils that match variations in their conditions” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

Finding the right fit between volunteers and youths is critical to the longevity and outcomes of the match. Mentors and youth come with different backgrounds, personalities, expectations, and skill levels; matching and training should take these differences into account. Mentees typically represent diverse demographics, including boys and girls who differ by racial and ethnic minority background, socioeconomic status, disability, and religion. Although the research does not necessarily indicate that mentors must be matched on these dimensions, studies do show the importance of a basic compatibility between the youth and mentor in their personalities, interests, and expectations or goals for the relationship.  In addition, close emotional connections between youth and mentors appear to be fostered by factors resembling those identified as important in effective therapeutic relationships – mutual empathy and authenticity as well as basic compatibility and enjoying each other’s company.

Lesson Three: Weed – “Remove weeds and other competitive threats” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

Not everything that sprouts in a garden belongs there and, likewise, mentors and their case workers need to be on the lookout for insidious problems that may arise at any point in the match. Vigilance against such negative influences requires reasonable ratios between case workers and mentors, so that case workers are not overwhelmed by the number of cases and are thus able to provide adequate supervision to mentors. Mentoring relationships, like other types of relationships, are constantly at risk for misunderstanding, conflict, and various types of communication breakdowns, particularly in the early, vulnerable stages of the relationship. As Shakespeare observed, “Sweet flowers are slow and weeks make haste.” If not handled well, relationship problems can compromise the bond before it has had a chance to take hold. Whatever the source of dissatisfaction or unmet expectation, communication is always critical.

Lesson Four: Feed – “Amend the soil and keep plants cared for — pruned, fed, and strong — so that threats can’t harm them” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

In many mentoring programs, training efforts are uneven and fall largely in the realm of passive approaches (e.g., information packets to mentors) rather than active technical assistance. Furthermore, many programs spend minimal time with case management, which often takes the form of monthly perfunctory phone calls or emails. Taken together, these approaches have reduced the burden that is placed on the agency and volunteer in order to facilitate shifts in priorities toward volunteer recruitment, intake, and matching. Yet, research indicates that comprehensive orientation, supervision, consultation, and volunteer staff development, are all critical to promoting growth.

In addition to relationship-building skills, mentors must be trained regarding ethnic and cultural issues as well as developmental issues, and how these intersect with power dynamics that are particularly relevant in mentoring youth. For example, because most youth entering mentoring relationships are still minors and live at home where struggles for autonomy and control prevail, mentors need to attend to the subtle dynamics of the parent-child dyad. Furthermore, because youth are simultaneously undergoing multiple developmental changes in biological, psychological, and social realms, their mentors must have a solid grasp of developmental issues and cultural issues that may shape the needs, values, and perspectives of youth. In addition to these important areas of training and growth, volunteers and youth need adequate contact with supportive individuals who provide encouragement and feedback conducive to establishing strong roots for mentoring relationships.

Lesson Five: Persevere – “Don’t give up on a dead plant” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1)

Mentors need to be encouraged to persevere in maintaining the relationship given that most youth mentor relationships take time to evolve and their benefits accrue over time. Even seemingly disinterested protégés or unfruitful relationships may spring up or begin new growth unexpectedly. Thus, mentors should be made aware of research documenting the relatively slow pace of a youth mentor relationship as its most natural course, so that they come to expect a period of early dormancy similar to that described by Edward Payson Roe: “Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you” (1876).

Lesson Six: Evaluate – “Watch the garden to see soil changes, to know what plants will continue to flourish and to know what new plants to introduce” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

Because it is generally assumed that mentoring benefits young people, programs may be hesitant to spend precious resources on expensive program evaluations. Choosing not to evaluate, however, is shortsighted. Effective program evaluation can provide vital information about a program; this enables informed decisions regarding what is working as well as where resources and efforts might be re-directed. Indeed, not all mentoring programs, or interventions within mentoring programs, are equally beneficial and much is still to be learned about the newer types of mentoring programs (e.g., site-based, group, peer, internet). Moreover, much is to be learned about which aspects of mentoring programs are beneficial and transformative and which are less so.

Final Thoughts

To be effective, mentors need to tolerate all kinds of uncertainties, to address ethical dilemmas and disappointments as they arise, and to know whom to turn to for consultation and how to work through uncharted territories. Yet, naturalist Frederick Frye Rockwell (1917) provided a useful caveat regarding the limitations of such principles:

“The gardener who imagines that his work can be reduced to a set of rules and formulae, followed and applied according to special days marked on the calendar, is but preparing himself for a double disappointment.”

Likewise, although the mentoring guidelines presented here and elsewhere are useful, an individual approach to each youth should be crafted. Guidelines can only touch the surface of the intricacies involved in mentoring someone. They are likely to be most effective when they are used as a framework that leaves room for volunteers
to apply their intuitive wisdom and allow the relationship to grow and thrive in all of its complexity.


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What a great evening!

More than 200 people attended the Best Friends Mentoring Program’s 6th Annual Chocolate Affair Plus on May 2, raising $20,000+ for youth mentoring in Southwest North Dakota.

Winners of the People’s Choice Chef Awards included: Abbey Filzen in first place for her pulled pork sliders with a chocolate and wine-infused barbecue sauce on homemade chocolate buns; Kodi Polensky of the BrickHouse Grille in Dickinson came in second for her Childhood Dream Roll; and Kevin Colliton of the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson ranked third for his Brazilian brigadeiro.

Other participating chefs included Janeen Nichols, Sabrina Breeck, Sara Cox and Jayme Calhoun, Dr. Ashley Stark, and Melissa Bjerken.

“Our guests gave rave reviews on each of the chefs for the quality of their product and their enthusiasm,” said Kris Fehr, executive director of Best Friends. “We were so fortunate to have such a talented team of chefs, which ranged from professionals with years of experience in the food and beverage industry to community volunteers with a passion for pastry-making.”

The event united dozens of sponsors and supporters, including a team of event committee participants. Those individuals included: Alicia Erickson and Pam Rudolph of the Dickinson State University Foundation; Nancy Caine and Colleen Spears of UCP Staffing in Dickinson; Daun Schaff of DaunsPlanit, Mark Billings, Pamela Bumgardner and Fehr with Best Friends; Meagan Hitchner, a student at Dickinson State University, Wendy Wilson of Dickinson State University; Pat Pender of Town & Country Liquor in Dickinson; Rachael Ramsey and Amelia Savage.

Hitchner, a Dickinson State University graphic design student, compiled the program book. Schaff provided complimentary decorating services and Pender, owner of Town & Country Liquor, worked with Best Friends in supplying more than 30 varieties of premium wine and beer for the event.

“Each one of our committee members provided a niche talent,” said Fehr. “We could not have done the event without each person.”

Mark your calendar: The 7th Annual Chocolate Affair Plus is tentatively scheduled at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 7 at the Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson!

a_filtzen_aca_15  Abbey Filzen, a product development manager for Baker Boy, placed first in the People’s Choice   Chef Awards for her pulled pork sliders in a chocolate and red wine barbecue sauce served on
homemade chocolate buns.








Kodi Polensky, a lead chef for the BrickHouse Grille in Dickinson, placed second in the People’s  Choice Chef Awards for her artfully prepared Childhood Dream Roll.








Kevin Colliton, an executive sous chef with the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson, placed third in the People’s Choice Chef Awards for his creamy smooth Brazilian brigadeiro.


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Taking the Stress out of Feeding Kids Healthy Foods

Brussels Sprouts Chips? No Way…brussels sprouts chips

One day back in 2011, Jennifer Tyler Lee tried a fresh, new approach to getting her kids to try different foods: She turned her dinner table struggles into a game.

Using index cards and craft paper, Lee created a game in which her children earned points for trying colorful veggies and fruit, plus bonus points for brand new foods. (This story recently appeared in the magazine Relish.)

In 2012, she launched The 52 New Foods Challenge to get the kids to try an unfamiliar food each week. Together, they shopped for groceries to cook together. In November 2014 The 52 New Foods Challenge cookbook debuted with activities and recipes like Brussels Sprouts Chips.

Lee found that turning a struggle into a game brought her and her children closer together. She offers these tips for parents of picky eaters:

  • Set aside 30 to 60 minutes a week to cook with your kids, not for your kids.
  • Thing of meal preparation as a craft activity. Set up a low worktable with ingredients arranged like project materials.
  • Focus on the fun, not the food. You don’t have to end up with a perfect recipe at the end. Explore with your kids and all the rest will fall into place.

Read more about the challenge and Lee and get some great recipes at

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Don’t Miss A Chocolate Affair Plus Hosted by Best Friends on May 2

Support local youth mentoring opportunities by attending the Best Friends Mentoring Program’s A Chocolate Affair Plus from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, May 2 at the Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson.

Hand-crafted appetizers and desserts infused with decadent chocolate accents, fine wines, crafted and specialty beers, live jazz and the chance to win a chocolate diamond pendant valued at $1,000 are highlights of our event. A Chocolate Affair Plus is expanded this year to include specialty & craft beer tastings, champagne and chocolate fountains, a chance to win one of five gift baskets each valued at $100 or more and a chocolate diamond pendant worth $1,000. The evening also includes live music by the Brickhouse Jazz,  a quality silent auction, a Mystery Wine Pull and the popular People’s Choice Chef Awards.

Tickets are available at Best Friends Mentoring at 135 W. Villard or Town and Country Liquor at 1218 W. Villard St. Thank you to major sponsors Reichert Armstrong and the Armstrong Corporation, with the grand prize provided byACA+_Logo (2) Britton Jewelers.

For information, contact Best Friends at (701) 483-8615 or online at See you there!

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Mentoring is a powerful!

Lori Hunt, multicultural services & outreach director at Spokeane Community College, talks about how a mentor helped her bridge a critical time in her life as a college student. If mentoring is this powerful in a young adult’s life, how about to the grade-school youth enrolled in the Best Friends Mentoring Program? Make a difference … sign up as a mentor today!


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National Mentoring Center Opens

Federally-funded resource center will help mentoring programs meet national standards

National Mentoring Center logo 2015The National Mentoring Resource Center has three components: an interactive website, no-cost specialized technical assistance for mentoring programs and the National Mentoring Resource Center Research Board. The website features resources for the youth mentoring field, including a “What Works in Mentoring” section; targeted program and training materials and a portal providing access to technical assistance. The resources and technical assistance are in alignment with the national standards for high quality, evidence-based mentoring, as outlined in The Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring ™ available at: Additional information is available at:

The Research Board, chaired by Dr. David DuBois of the University of Illinois at Chicago, consists of prominent experts in youth mentoring practice areas such as program models, settings for implementation and outcomes for specific populations. “When done purposefully and according to evidence-based standards, mentoring can produce tremendously positive outcomes for young people and keep them from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system,” said OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee. “The National Mentoring Resource Center gives us the tools and resources to help mentoring programs meet national standards for quality while we build ground-level capacity to connect more young people with mentors.”

OJJDP (Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention) selected MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to establish the Center through a competitive application process. For 25 years, MENTOR has developed and distributed research, standards, tools, and training to ensure mentoring is safe and effective. MENTOR has also built a network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships to provide on-the-ground consulting to mentoring programs and advance quality mentoring through the development and delivery of standards, cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art tools.

“We’re privileged to leverage the combined expertise of MENTOR, our affiliate Mentoring Partnerships and leading researchers in the field to build on OJJDP’s investments supporting young people’s development and achievements,” said MENTOR CEO David Shapiro.


OJJDP provides national leadership, coordination and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated prevention and intervention programs and to improve the juvenile justice system so that it protects public safety, holds offenders accountable and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families. Additional information about OJJDP is available at

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‘The Things They Did Not Buy’

Investing time made him a better person

From Mark, our new program and communications coordinator:

As a suburphotoban kid growing up outside of Chicago, a highlight came nearly every summer when my sister and I spent two weeks with both sets of our grandparents in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

To a 10-year-old, the deep woods, crisp streams and lakes, and lush mountains of New England were alluring. As we cruised the winding roads in my grandparent’s 1967 Mercury convertible, the open air was heavy with the scent of tall pine, hay and an occasional tobacco farm. Overhead, a single-engine plane droned and a crow  swooped to a new tree. On the top of a favorite hill, we would stop to see the green hillsides rolling from Massachusetts into the nearby states of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Prior to one trip, a grandmother wrote how and she and my step-grandfather were on Granite Lake in New Hampshire fishing near Skull Island –a granite outcropping covered in evergreens and brush. It was a favorite destination for summer blueberry picking. On one fishing trip, she explained, a nearby fisherman wheeled in an unexpected surprise — a black rubber diving mask from the rocky bottom near the island.  Seeing it, she told the fisherman of our pending visit. “I told him my grandson would love to have the mask,” she wrote. “It’s here waiting for you when you come.” Using a dark pen, she drew a picture of it in her letter.

IMG_20150226_0001Our two weeks at Granite Lake spanned from cool summer mornings in front of the wood burning stove to still evenings on the screened porch, where my sister and I would sit with my grandparents and other visitors watching the sunset. During the warmer part of the day, we spent almost all of our time in the spring-fed waters of the lake, so clean people drank from it. And that once forgotten diving mask opened a new, clear world as I explored the soft, sandy bottom near my grandparent’s tiny cabin and the shores off the island. From late morning until sometime late afternoon, it became a beacon – a lens to a place I’d never seen.

Forty years later, I still have that mask in a box with other treasures from my youth. There are handwritten letters, a saxophone mouthpiece, pieces of an old coin collection and some pocketknives a grandfather gave me. In that box and in my mind, I remember the people who invested in me with their time and in many instances, the things they did not buy. I am a better person because of that diving mask, a serene rowboat ride to an island, a picnic lunch and time that ebbed away sweetly, like the clear lapping waves at Granite Lake.

026Mark Billings joined the Best Friends Mentoring Program (BFMP) as a program and communications coordinator starting Feb. 23.

Mark, who came to Dickinson in 2014 as Dickinson State University’s director of communications, will facilitate mentor and mentee recruitment, training and development while handling the nonprofit’s communications and public relations.

“Best Friends Mentoring serves a critical niche in our growing community,” said Mark. “Every youth, regardless of his or her background, deserves a stable, caring and positive influence. Every mentor is a catalyst for powerful, personal impact in a child’s future.”

Kris Fehr, executive director of BFMP, said Mark’s background in nonprofit management and communications in Illinois, where he was a lifetime resident, are a good fit for the 20-year-old nonprofit.  “He has already been active in the community and will continue to connect with people who desire the best for our youth,” she said.

Mark’s wife, Pat, is an education manager at CHI St. Joseph Hospital. The couple has three children, including Chad, 17; Garrett, 15; and Madeleine, 14.

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Winter Doldrums? Bust the Boredom

Try an Indoor Snowball Blizzardsnowman

From Kris, our Executive Director:

It’s the end of winter and kids (and grown ups, too) can get stuck in the winter doldrums when it’s too cold to be outside, or we’ve had too many cloudy days. Our friends at the Search Institute share this activity:

Author Jolene L. Roehlkepartain devotes a whole chapter on boredom-busting ideas in her book, Spark Student Motivation: 101 Easy Activities for Cooperative Learning. The following activity, Snowball Blizzard, is a great way for kids to have some fun and discover new things about each other.

Snowball Blizzard

Focus: Youth have a paper snowball fight to get to know each other more.

You Will Need:

  • A large area
  • Three pieces of 8 ½- by 11-inch white paper for each young person
  • A pencil for each young person

Activity: Give each young person three pieces of paper and a pencil. Have them write one unusual fact about themselves on each piece of paper without putting their name on the paper. For example, one person may write, “I got braces when I was 11″ on one piece of paper, “Our family has a pet snake” on another piece of paper, and “My family has traveled to India” on another piece of paper.

When they finish, have them wad up each of their three papers into three “snowballs” of paper.

While holding their three wads of paper, have them spread out in a large area. Explain that when you yell, “Snowball blizzard!” they are to start throwing their wads of paper at other kids. If a wad of paper falls near them, they can pick it up and throw it at someone and keep the snowball blizzard going.

Yell, “Snowball blizzard” and let the wads of paper begin to fly. After a few minutes, stop the activity. Have young people sit. Ask them each to grab one snowball wad closest to them.

Ask for a volunteer. Have that person open up the paper, read it aloud, and then guess whom it describes. Let them have three guesses. If they don’t guess by the third time, have the person who it describes raise his or her hand and say, “That’s me.”

That person then opens up a snowball and does the same thing. Keep going around the group until all the snowballs have been opened up. (Each young person will do three.)

Discussion Questions:

  • How hard or easy was it to come up with three unusual facts about yourself?
  • What did you think of the snowball blizzard? Why?
  • What one new fact did you learn about a group member today?
  • Why is it important to have fun with group members?
  • How else can we have fun together?

Bonus Idea: At another time, play the game again. This time have young people write the place where they were born on one piece of paper, the name of the school they attended as a kindergarten student on another piece of paper, and the name of their favorite teacher on the third piece of paper.

Jolene L. Roehlkepartain is the author of numerous books including The Best of Building Assets Together, Pass It On, and Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose.

P.S. Don’t forget, free shipping is available in February on orders over $200. Stock up now on your favorite publications, posters, and kits!

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Every Day is a Food Holiday

national-banana-bread-day-february-23Has it come to this? Every day is a food holiday in the United States and on some days there’s more than one food to commemorate. There’s even special months dedicated to foods, too.

Monday was National Banana Bread Day. There’s months and days for many foods; for example, February alone claims National Cherry Month, National Grapefruit Month, National Hot Breakfast Month, National Macadamia Nut Month and National Snack Food Month. gives this brief information about the day set aside to recognize one of the most delicious and versatile — and easy to make — breads that’s as comfortable at the dinner table as it is appropriate for breakfast and snack time:

“Banana bread is a delicious baked good, which is classified as a “quick bread” or “tea cake.” Bananas arrived in the United States in the 1870s and quickly became one of the most popular fruits on the market. It wasn’t long before they started to appear in dessert recipes as the star ingredient.

The first cookbooks that mentioned banana bread were published during the Great Depression. Culinary historians believe that a resourceful housewife who did not want to throw away over-ripe bananas may have invented the original recipe.

Today there are many variations on this classic. To celebrate National Banana Bread Day, bake yourself a delicious loaf with unusual add-ins like chocolate chips, berries, or nuts!”

What’s your favorite add-in? I always start with “3 dead bananas,’ to quote my sister, and just before spooning the batter into pan(s), I usually stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Feeling adventurous, I recently tried a wonderful banana bread recipe that called for buttermilk, brown sugar and pecans. Those ingredients are quite a departure from my usual recipes and the resulting product received thumbs up from the church choir when I brought it for a taste test. It might be my new favorite banana bread recipe.

Looking for a more comprehensive listing of national food holidays? Check out this website that contains extensive listings of United States symbols and special days and months.

And by the way: Happy Tortilla Chip Day on Tuesday!

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