Today we’d like to introduce you to Joe Sigurdson.
Joe, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I had amazing parents that instilled a huge sense of community service through their example. They were juvenile probation officers when they met. My Dad ran SD Boys and Girls Aid Society a foster care facility in the 50’s, He taught Criminal Justice Administration at USC programs in the 60’s spent a large part of his career transforming prison systems, was a champion for justice and civil rights. Ran multiple youth diversion programs all over Los Angels during 60’s and early 70’s was the executive director of Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Omaha Nebraska and completely transformed and updated child care at the institute after a Pulitzer Prize winning expose on the abuses, nepotism and corruption was written in 1973.
I was a teenage father, marrying my older sister’s best friend and adopting her two year old daughter at 18. I worked swing shift in a Union printing shop and was the youngest guy on the shift, All the guys drank and I wanted to fit in. In short order, I became alcohol dependent, which leads to drugs and abuse. That leads to a life of crime, dealing dope and acting as a collection agent for a cocaine dealer. I committed felonies every day for five years, never got caught.
At 28 I ended up at the doorsteps of Alcoholics Anonymous, where Men didn’t care where I had been or what I had done, they were interested in what I was willing to do to clean up my mess and move forward. Those men taught me unconditional love and acceptance and took me through the 12 steps, where I learned solid principles to live my life by.
At 36 I did a Men’s retreat that was structured to take a fiercely honest look at what was and was not working in my life called The New Warrior Training Adventure. At the end of that experience, I thought I could have used this at 14. Two years later a group of men, including my Father and I got together to create such a weekend for teenage boys. Shortly after we started to structure a weekend experience, my Father died, my dear friend Craig McClain and I picked up the torch and co-created Boys to Men Mentoring Network.
We executed our first rites of passage adventure weekend for 10 boys from the neighborhood. 23 years later that experience has evolved and the original precepts of listening, accept and encourage are the foundation for our in-school group mentoring program and our Adventure Weekends. My life has been a perfect storm to prepare me for this work. Amazing parents, teenage father, a dark period of alcohol and drug abuse, followed by a period of awakening and transformation, giving me the skill set to give away what was freely given to me.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Not at all, my partner and Co-Founder Craig McClain and I had no experience in creating a non-profit, raising money or in managing people. We have screwed this thing up a thousand different ways, learned our lessons, re-grouped and persevered. Some of our most memorable screw-ups were letting teenage boys drive bulldozers, skip loaders and run chainsaws. We dodged a bullet with that recklessness, we flipped a skip loader with four teenage boys hanging from it, no one got hurt. We learned a very hard lesson on mandated reporting and liability insurance from a wonderful group of fierce women questioning what the hell were we doing and how dare we be so irresponsible.
The lesson we learned from those strong women has put me in a position where I had to trust my gut and ask men, that I did not think were safe to step away from our program. I have hurt men in the name of safety for our boys. Boys to Men has been broke dozens of times over the years, both Craig and I have invested thousands and thousands of our dollars to keep this program viable.
Tell us more about your organization.
We specialize in empowering boys to follow their dreams. Boys to Men Mentoring is an in-school group mentoring program for at risk, disconnected boys ages 12 to17. We send teams of men into schools to sit in circles with the boys. The men share their stories about the choices we have made, the price we have paid for those choices, the consequences we suffered and the beliefs we hold about ourselves. When the boys hear the men being authentic, honest and vulnerable, they feel safe to do the same.
From the truth, the boys make a new choice about the kind of men they want to be. The mentors offer support in the form of a text, Facebook message or phone call for the new choice. The following week we do a round of accountability to see if they did what they said they wanted to do to become the men they want to be. We never tell the boys what to do, we just tell them what we have done. We may share what we wished we had done differently or wished was available for us and then avail ourselves to be that resource for them if they ask for it.
Week by week the boys get rid of their secrets, make new choices and receive support and accountability for those choices. What happens is they start feeling better about themselves and when they feel better they do better. We do no tutoring and our metrics show that the boy’s attendance and GPA go up, while their discipline problems go down.
We follow these weekly groups where the boys identify the challenges, beliefs and block in their lives with a three day adventure weekend where we take a deep dive into the issues. The weekend is structured to connect the dots back from the behaviors to the events in their lives that created the beliefs, that lead to the feelings, that manifested the behaviors that are hurting them and everyone around them. When they connect those dots they see that everything was not their fault and that they can make new agreements and commitments to be the men they want to be.
What sets us apart from other mentoring programs is the group’s approach. the boys get a variety of men with varying life experiences, interests and skillsets. And we offer a retreat that provides a cathartic transformational experience that helps the boys create a clear path to manhood, with a community of boys and men that will support them on their way.
We are known for providing the love and care for boys that empowers them to become the good men they all want to be. What we are most proud of is our capacity to deliver a program to a diverse group of boys that cuts through, race, culture and socio-economic identities and brings boys and men together through their own humanity. I’m proud of our ability to create a sacred space to share our pain, grief, anger, sadness and joys from an authentic self and share the human experience.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
When I see a young man believe in himself, make a new choice and work hard to become the good man he wants to be, that is a success. The markers I look for are, how does he treat his mother, friends, teachers and himself. I’ve been at this for 23 years I have the benefit of knowing many young men as they become workers, soldiers, husbands and fathers, I get to witness them living their dreams.
- Our groups cost us about $20,000.00 a year to deliver to each of our school partners
- We are looking for schools to partner with us and share our cost by fiidning the funding to cover 1/2 of the cost or $10,000.00
- Address: Boys to Men Mentoring
9587 Tropico Drive
La Mesa CA 91941
- Website: www.boystomen.org
- Phone: 619-889-9243
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: Boys to Men Mentoring