I realized that telling stories could help reach young people when I was working as a youth counselor with high school dropouts. I had read Carl G. Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious, which led me to read Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth, which led me to Michael Meade's Men and the Water of Life. Meade interpreted life through myths. I thought I could apply that concept in my work with youth.
Once I started using myths, I knew I had found the ticket.
I started the Alchemy Afterschool Program in 2004, to provide support and mentorship to boys in the sixth and seventh grade, boys who are becoming young men. I found others who believed in the same philosophy as I did and we begin to work as a team. We use myth and fairy tales in group discussions around motifs such as sacrifice, trials, conflict resolution, decision-making, perseverance, humility, confidence and strength - and then apply them to real life situations. We want to let these young men become the heroes in their own stories.
As we always tell our youth, "Where you sit in your old age is determined by where you stand as a youth." We start with changes today.
We start the afterschool program with a snack and the options of drumming, socializing or homework. The storytelling and discussion session comes last. We sit in circle, from youngest to oldest. The stories provide wonderful lessons for their own lives and futures; lessons made more powerful because the young men come to the message on their own, and it really sinks in. In our circle, we can also talk about things in their lives that they would not normally be comfortable raising. Whether they are talking about friends who might get them into trouble, or the wounds they feel from a missing father, they know they will be supported.
We will stick with our Alchemy youth until they finish high school and beyond if that is what is needed, we have informed them that we are in their lives as long as they want us to be. They need the support and we are here to give it. We want to see all of our youth go on to college, and we know each and every one can make it.
We are proud that some of the students say that being part of Alchemy has helped them see a better future ahead. In truth, it is our privilege to spend time with these young men, not the other way around. We are honored to discuss the deeper questions in life with them. We think our youth can change the world.