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home : features : features November 20, 2014

5/22/2013 8:35:00 AM
Organization's rite of passage takes 'Boys to Men'
Charles Matheus is right at home amidst a mountain backdrop, outside his Boys to Men office.
TribPhoto/Cheryl Hartz
Charles Matheus is right at home amidst a mountain backdrop, outside his Boys to Men office.
TribPhoto/Cheryl Hartz

Cheryl Hartz
News Editor

New executive director Charles Matheus said people are under the misconception that Boys to Men is a program for "kids in trouble, or who are messed up."

"We do have some, but our understanding is that every young man deserves a rite of passage," Matheus said.

Matheus, 46, started with the organization as a volunteer three years ago and in Jan. 2012, became program director.

When founder and executive director Richard Mansbach stepped aside in February to take on other responsibilities, Matheus took on the top job.

"Right now, culturally, boys are in trouble," he said. "Boys enter college at a lower rate than girls and are dropping out of high school at a higher rate."

He said many traditionally female professions, such as health care and education, are hiring while usually male-dominated jobs, such as manufacturing and construction, have dried up.

"It's creating an economic crisis for young men, an identity crisis for young men," Matheus said.

He said he believes society hasn't helped young men to be emotional but strong, and parents haven't figured out a way to develop a young man's desire for adventure, challenge and risk.

"That's why I'm excited to be part of a 'band of uncles,'" he said. "I want to give young men a sense of place."

That's why Boys to Men offers its Rites of Passage weekends, wilderness outings, and many other opportunities for bonding, such as a recent clean-up day at Granite Creek in Prescott.

Matheus said he asks each young man three questions to open a Rites of Passage event: Where are you at now? What kind of man do you want to be? What will it take to get there?

Matheus said the organization recruits and carefully vets adult volunteers to maintain a one-to-one ratio and make the program successful, but the boys are never alone one-on-one with an adult.

"I was a middle school and high school teacher, so I know what it's like to be one-on-fifty," he said, laughing. "Never again."

Twenty-five years' experience working with youth, including stints at Sky View Middle School and The Orme School teaching biology and environmental science, has given him insight into what young people need.

"Even among intact families, adolescents need to separate themselves," he said. "It's a hard time, but parents need to understand, this is your young man's job."

Matheus grew up in Jerome, where maybe three or four teenagers lived at any given time.

"I lost my dad young, but I had people looking out for me that were not part of my family," he said. "On my paper route, May Johnson had hot crullers for me. One retired man bought sleds and left them outside his gate for kids to use. That kind of thing can get lost in a modern community."

He said he received male nurturing and had real role models at summer camp. He also learned mountaineering, rock climbing, and the like that helps him lead outdoor activities for the boys becoming men.

But, he said, teenagers also need to work on social skills with their peers, and Boys to Men provides group mentoring for adolescents to do just that.

"They interact, play games, take on service projects - do things in a group with a lot of adult presence."

He said every activity begins and ends with an emotional "check-in" to see how they're feeling: mad, sad, glad, scared, excited, joyful, or what.

"There's a lot of depression in boys that isn't diagnosed. They tend to lash out."

He said help and support to create a vocabulary about their feelings is essential.

Jasper is a young man whose father died, grandparents are gone and who hates his uncles.

"Here he has 30 uncles, 30 granddads, and 20 brothers," Matheus said.

In a video on the Boys to Men website, teenager Darius explained why he likes the organization.

"I realized no one would judge me," he said. "I could open up."

Even people who don't volunteer can help in small ways to make young men feel connected to their communities.

"Smile at a skateboarder; don't scowl," he said. "Even a subtle shift can encourage positive behavior."

The whole point is to show boys a positive path to becoming a man.

"I tell them, the earth and sky are big enough to hold whatever you've got," Matheus said.

Boys to Men is an international organization now in 16 countries. For more information, visit: www.boystomenaz.org.

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