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Monday, October 5, 2009

Involve Me

Years ago, I spent a few weeks in Alaska working with native leaders on a drug prevention initiative in response to epidemic levels of drug use by the local kids.

As in the rest of the Lower 48, most of the Alaskan drug prevention effort up to this point had involved talking TO kids via pamphlets, slogans — anything short of being truly involved and engaged with the young people. Needless to say, drug use levels were barely affected.

But this time would be different. During our discussion, one of the native elders said, “Instead of pulling the casualties out downstream, let’s walk upstream and see what is pushing our children into the forging river."

It was an extraordinary moment. Following this logic, the elders observed that their young people had lost all connection to their spiritual heritage. In the native Alaskan world, this heritage included reverence for the land, hunting, making things, contributing to the well being of the village, and being a good role model for those younger than you.

The new initiative would address far more than drugs and would be all-inclusive, involving everyone in the village. The elders summarized the context of the new initiative by saying, "If you tell me, I will forget. Show me, and I might remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” With that, all members of the village — old, young, male, female — came together and envisioned a process for rediscovering their connection to everything. That gave birth to what became known as Spirit Camps. These native people felt that their spirits had been rekindled by everyone rejoining in this collective effort.

All the local kids were included, engaged, involved. And the initiative bore fruit. Two years later, addiction rates in the villages that implemented this initiative dropped dramatically.

When I reflect on this experience, it fuels my zeal for the potential of Lifeplan. Over four decades, our federal, state, and local governments have spent more than $500 billion to address the four social epidemics young people face today: drug abuse, teen pregnancy, joining gangs, and dropping out of school. We invested in talking TO kids, it didn’t work, so we spent more on the same thing. And round and round.

Now we know that being involved WITH kids, in activities like mentoring, produces the positive outcomes we’ve always yearned for. With Lifeplan, we have a breathtaking new way to grow mentoring opportunities. Because it involves young people in creating their own destiny, Lifeplan not only helps them survive that forging river — it helps them thrive.

And that should warm the spirit in us all.

All the best,


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