Every journey starts with a step

Last May, nine teenage boys from the Asheville area and five from other cities participated in an adventure weekend called the "Rites of Passage" that serves as the doorway into the Journeymen mentoring program. It was the first group of youths to participate in the locally based nonprofit, which works under the philosophy that all boys benefit from adult mentors. Twice a month, Journeymen holds meetings at Jubilee! where teens can talk to adults and, as Asheville photographer and Journeymen co-director Jon Leidel says, "let them share their truths."

"So often, you ask a teenage boy how he is feeling and all he says is 'I'm cool,'" Leidel notes. "We get them to go deeper than that."

The group's outings include outdoor adventures or trips to the bowling alley. Playing sports and exploring in nature builds trust between the boys and the mentors, Leidel says. More than 30 men have gone through the mentorship training the program provides, and reap their own rewards from the network.

"It's hard to describe the joys and gifts when a boy says thank you just for showing up," Leidel says.

January is national mentoring month, and to build on its momentum, Journeymen is holding a fundraiser and awareness campaign at Fun Depot on Saturday, Jan. 30. During the event, Fun Depot is lowering its ticket price to $15 for anyone who mentions the organization, with $5 from each ticket going to the group. The afternoon, Leidel says, is also a chance for teens and parents to get to meet and talk with mentors without committing to the program.

"This is a good way to get kids to come check us out and ask questions," he says.

Unlike other mentoring programs, Journeymen does not pair off teens and adults. That relationship forms slowly and with the recognition of the boy, the mentor and the teen's parents.

Leidel stresses that he and his collaborators didn't invent the system: It's an offshoot of the California-based Boys to Men mentoring program that has chapters throughout the United States and worldwide. But, like other regional programs, Journeymen is tailored to Asheville and its unique opportunities for outdoor activity. It is also, says Leidel, quickly becoming the southeastern hub of Boys to Men, helping establish chapters in Atlanta and Charleston.

The fundraiser at Fun Depot is on Saturday, Jan. 30, from 2 to 5 p.m.  For more information, go to www.mentoringboys.org.

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