Helping young men help themselves

abandofbrothers mentors “young men involved or in danger of becoming involved in the criminal justice system, providing them with the support they need to make the transition to an adulthood free of crime, and full of connection, purpose and meaning”. HIP talks to Andy Puffett (External Relations) and Chris Richards (Conductor) about the Hastings branch.

These are young men who are often living in isolation and loneliness often self-harming and close to suicide. People in the community tend to just see the side that affects them, such as random acts of vandalism, rather than understanding the challenging backgrounds that so often lie behind their behaviour.

PIC: Joe Mellish

A group in Brighton had the idea of providing them with a rite of passage into adulthood and mature masculinity. This developed into a more complex process which was eventually rolled out in different parts of the country in 2013. Eastbourne set up their programme four years ago and Hastings more recently in 2017.

It took organisation and hard work and a lot of time to train up volunteer adult mentors. After that, working with the probation services or from within the care system, the search was on for suitable participants. 

Andrew explains that the programme starts with ‘The Quest’, a two-day residential programme where the participants can search for a sense identity and a purpose in life: “an emotional deep dive where they hold up a mirror to themselves”. 

During this weekend, the participants choose a mentor to work with for the rest of the 12-week cycle, one hour a week. Over the 12 weeks, there are also community activities where participants carry out work such as painting a youth centre, as well as a fun day such as paint balling – all aimed at creating a sense of brotherhood, self-worth and community.

“The young men become part of a community of men”, says Chris. “We are all exploring what mature masculinity means together.”

Talking about The Quest, Andrew explains: “You can’t tell them exactly what they’ll be doing because it’s supposed to be an exploration into the unknown. They are told about the commitment but not the activities they’ll encounter.” 

Once they agree to come, it’s about facing the young men with the reality of who they are and what their life means: “I thought at first it was about lecturing and fixing these guys,” says Andrew, “but it’s almost the opposite, allowing them to see for themselves the unhealthy patterns in their lives.”

18 months on, three young men have graduated from the 12-week cycle with five more graduating shortly. The graduation is celebrated as a ‘homecoming’ – an evening where friends, family, guardians – as well as local dignitaries – listen to them relate their experiences. This is a public event so all support from the community is welcome. Anyone interested in celebrating this second homecoming and learning more about what’s involved should attend the ceremony at The Salvation Army, 26 St Andrews Square, Hastings, TN34 1SR, on 16th Dec 7.00pm – 9.30pm

Talking about the need for adult mentors, Chris points out: “They also get the benefit of finding a purpose in life.”

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