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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Learning to Dream Again

Imagine being a young person who finds himself or herself homeless. Every day is a struggle to attend school, to fit in, to seek privacy and calm at a shelter, to handle constant uncertainty and change. Day-to-day living takes all your energy. A path forward is the last thing on your mind.

In my new book, A Plan for Life: Why Every Young Person Should Have a Lifeplan, I share the story of some adolescent girls who faced those obstacles and more. But due to the extraordinary caring of the Greater Phoenix Youth at Risk organization, and its New Pathways teen mentoring program, these girls were introduced to Lifeplan. And one step at a time, they began to fashion a path forward in life.

The role of mentors in the New Pathways program is to show what life can be like outside the shelter, with the emphasis on education. Lifeplan was a perfect fit with the curriculum because it added the tools to help young people set goals and make life changes. In fact, the program motto mirrors what Lifeplan is all about: helping kids “learn to dream again, then learn how to make those dreams a reality.”

Attendance was mandatory at the Lifeplan workshops that New Pathways offered every other Saturday. The girls were completely committed; during the 4-week program, only one missed a day because she was sick. And the girls blossomed. Because kids living in homeless shelters crave privacy, these young women especially treasured their confidential Lifeplan journals. Soon, they began to trust that Lifeplan was truly going to help them. One extremely introverted girl went from refusing to participate to becoming a group leader. When it was time for her to invite people to join her Board of Directors, she bravely picked up the phone and called her dad, her aunt, her mentor, and the New Pathways director who recalled, “It was just incredible to hear that conversation.”

Setting achievable goals represented huge gains in responsibility and self-esteem for these girls. Now, their achievements might be something kids in other circumstances take for granted. But these girls’ progress was breathtaking: they went from being hopeless to fashioning a path forward and preparing themselves to fulfill their commitments on that journey.

And there’s the lesson for all of us: When dedicated mentoring programs like New Pathways team up with Lifeplan, there’s no limit to ways we can help at-risk youth learn to dream again and make those dreams a reality.

All the best,


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