Why Mentorship Matters

Today is a big day for us at GYLI. We begin our first year of mentorship for our first class. This is a significant step for us.

Prior to taking off in July, we had the opportunity to work with Lauren Calahan from LEAP to Lead. Lauren has been running and advising youth development programs across the globe for almost 30 years. We knew that if we were going to expect successful mentorship, we’d have to equip both the participants and the mentors well. We incorporate mentorship because we know that all of us need someone to walk with us as we embark on new stages of our journey. At the beginning we’re excited and ready to go, but the plateaus and barriers can be seriously discouraging – and sometimes all you need is a reminder that you have what it takes to keep moving.

So here’s what we came up with:

First, the letter. Clear expectations are critical when establishing a mentorship dynamic. We wrote a letter to our mentors to ensure that they had a sense of the goal of this year. You can check it out: YouthLeadershipInstituteMentors.

Second, communication. Thankfully, we’re in an age where we have varying platforms of communication – so we had to make sure that each student had a way to communicating with their mentor.

Third, we recruited experienced people. All of our mentors have had experience in mentoring young people in various capacities. They know how to navigate some of the challenges that will come.

And finally – we’re running with it. We set a context of open feedback and we are taking off. I’m excited to see what comes in these next months!



And So It Begins

I’m sitting here in Cancun looking out at the beautiful blue water – we’re heading back state side today.

As we leave Mexico, we have 12 students working on 10 amazing projects that I wanted to share with you all. Mentorship starts in just over a week. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

Gloria – providing home care and support for elderly who are without families to care for them

Lidia – Organizing a campaign to keep young people from alcohol and drug addiction

Oto + Gener – “Adopting” One family with abandoned kids + Starting a local coffee stand at the dock

Iran – Launching an ecotourism agency to provide greater awareness to the beautiful resources of “Zona Maya”

Egdar – Providing counseling for families who have suffered severe trauma

Diego + Meri – Launching a health education campaign in Chiquilá to bring better medical resources to village

Sarely – Starting Children’s theater program to help children express suffering

Angel – Youth Kitchen after school program to get youth off the streets, learning to cook, while serving others

Alejandro + Antonio – Agrotoursim – providing opportunities for those who visit this area to have fun, interactive trips to the various farms around the area

We leave this place INSANELY proud of our first 12 and incredibly excited for the future of this program. The power in this work comes at the intersection of exposure to excellence, intentional love, and structured guidance towards a goal. We built a family this summer through the support of so many people. And we’re just getting started.

You’ll hear from us soon. Be looking for the hashtag #youthlead2016


Final Dinner

Planning for Interruptions: How to Prepare for Pressing In

It was 8 days ago around this time when I got the email. We were about to walk into our concert and our scheduled barista told me he couldn’t make it – less than 24 hours before his arrival.  This was a shock to the stomach to say the least. My entire team felt incredibly convicted that coffee and hospitality week was critical to applying all we had learned together in the past month. So I was now faced with a fairly significant challenge to make this week meaningful for our students.

It was 6 days ago when one of our girls told me that her father wouldn’t let her come on the final retreat. She was heart broken and convinced that there was no way it would be feasible for her to take advantage of this critical week in our program.

It was just 5 days ago when I was faced with a difficult conversation with a local pastor who had been warning his entire congregation – of about 500 people – that we were spreading false gospel and that we were living lives contrary to the laws of God.

I mention these three scenarios because they identify three very common challenges you will face if you start something.

  1. You will face lack of follow through. I wish this was not the case but it is in every industry, in every culture, in every environment. So the question is not a matter of how to avoid it, but rather, when you are faced with it, what are your resources to draw from? For me, it was three-fold.  First, I knew that if all else failed, I could teach basic espresso drinks. I know a bit about coffee through my love of it and my experience at Starbucks. Second, my team. I had a chef in my kitchen! She could teach about food service and intentional presentation. Other members of my team had also served in various food service capacities (servers, baristas, hostesses) in their life. Third, my network. I immediately reached out to two of my friends – one who owns a coffee shop and another who is a manager of the bar and food department at the Andaz hotel.  Within a matter of one hour, I had a bare skeleton of a curriculum, a brief manual of how to pour milk, and a Skype session with Alejandro who also happens to be Mexican!

Baristas! IMG_3321 Food Service  Skype learning

2. Starting something new requires education. My father, who was here this week reminded me that 6 months ago, what we are doing did not exist. The concept, the expectations, the outcomes. All of it was not even a remote idea in the minds of the kids – much less their parents. There have been weeks where we all have felt like we’ve been repeating ourselves over and over about getting here on time, the importance of follow through. But that is actually part of how this works. You have to be firm, but you also have to realize that you are the teacher – and this applies to the families as well. Rather than getting upset about the father’s reaction or being discouraged by the fear of the daughter (this dad is not known for for his gentle spirit), I had to approach the problem with a fierce commitment to honoring his culture. And of course, we had to have set this up with that posture as well – making sure that all angles of this plan were taken care of: the transportation, the school giving permission, the theme and foundation of the program itself.

3. Your biggest barrier will likely be the least expected. If you had told me 13 years ago that my biggest heart break would be the oppressive spirit of the churches here, I don’t think I would have believed you. But after last year, I had a strong conviction that the church we were working with here was not providing hope and life to the young people in this town. I had done work with them for years on a fairly surface level, but as I honed in on what exactly we would be doing this year, I had no choice but pay attention to the deeper implications of the rules they were placing on their people – specifically their women.

There’s a point where cultural idiosyncrasies no longer are forgivable. And I will say that is the biggest shift in me personally this summer. For years, I wrote off the long skirts, aggressive sermons, screeching music as cultural approaches to worship. But as I’ve observed this summer through personal experience and relationships, this cultish approach to God is actually evil. Shame invoking, boisterous, public displays of pride have no place in the kingdom of God. Calling out women for their style of dress, hair, and makeup have no place in the kingdom of God. Rejecting those who are severely messed up and broken has no place in the kingdom of God.  As one of our local friends said, “How can you expect to help the broken, drug addicted, alcoholic prostitute if you don’t talk with her?”

None of our students fit the description above, but all of them have been faced with the tyrannical god of this church and have been found wanting. And while we cannot change doctrine or transform a church – nor do we consider this our mission – we can be a safe place where people can come, find rest, and have the opportunity to explore what their faith actually means without fear of criticism or ostracizing.


So to conclude – how do you prepare to press in? You must be committed to innovative, creative thinking while being anchored in the objectives of your work. These three stories were absolutely challenging. In order for us to experience any success in them, we had to commit ourselves to finding a way. There is no giving up here. And when the pang of discouragement threatens to drain your drive towards excellence, take that thought immediately and push it aside. After all, it is THAT VERY LESSON that we are trying to encourage our students with. Regardless of the barrier, press on for the joy of what lies ahead,


En La Cocina

In this town, we find a place called home. A place for love, a place for growth, a place for friendship, leadership, honesty and hope.  Vulnerability transports us to our next challenging discoveries. Who knew that each day, each moment would bring us closer to our organically divine purpose? When I look into the eyes of these students I see hope despite pain and dreams pressing through the clouds of confusion. Hands reaching to serve others are filled with all of life’s necessities while full belly laughter is medicine to our souls.

Exposure reveals the true image of our character. We are exposing these young people to affirmation, support, and an elevated perspective.  Walking side by side with the most remarkable group of people I have ever met to experience and prepare the joys, sorrows and triumphs along these students has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I am honored to be called for this incredible journey. This is just the beginning!! Students around the world have the same life challenges and we are here to walk with them as we are so led. #Chiquila2015 I am forever changed!

– Marcella Lawson, Head Chef

Lift Up Your Voice

This past week, Josue Avila and Byron Campbell made their way to Chiquilá to teach our students about music and business. Byron is video production genius and put together a really cool recap of the week for us. I’ll let that do the talking! The students were not only responsible for being a part of the concert we put on, but they were also a part of advertising and designing the event. It was great on-the-ground experience for them as they prepare for their projects.

It’s A Sex Thing

I never wanted to know about the “birds and the bees.” So the fact that I now live in New York and talk about sex for a living is very funny to me, and my parents.

When Rachel first told me about Mexico and asked me if I wanted to go, I asked her, “What could I do there?” She said, “I was thinking maybe you could teach what you teach the kids at schools in New York?” After a month or so of prayer and really questioning if I was going to go, I got the confirmation. After talking with Amy, we realized my role was going to be more than just a Sex Ed Teacher. We developed the position of “Keep Amy’s Head On and Handle Logistics.” I love details, I love organization and I love lists. So to be able to do that here in Chiquila Mexico, is awesome! But to step out of that for an hour or two for 3 days to teach was such a treat! What made it so special, was that I know these students. I love them all and I fell very comfortable to talk to them as if they were my little siblings. I care about their wellbeing, their health, their lives!

Physical Strength as a Part of Leadership

Last week, Wendy Pond came and trained the students for a full week – demonstrating how exercise can actually be fun. At the end of the week, the students put together a field day for the kids of the town and it was a great success!

Thank you, Wendy, for everything you did to make this a dynamic and fun learning experience for the students!

The Messy Side of Greatness

Hi all,

We’re in our 4th week over here in Chiquilá and have a significantly different dynamic this week than the past three. First, we have a great team from Massachusetts with us. They are serving the town in various capacities, but most specifically through a morning VBS and interacting with our participants (allowing for continued English practice and camaraderie).

In addition, we have two very different themes this week. The first is music – the students are latching on to this as expected. Each day they have classes in voice and each student picked an instrument – piano, bass, guitar, or drums – to learn this week. The goal is that they, as a team, will be able to perform a song together at our concert on Saturday. Second, we’re beginning to expose them to business skills and acumen. We did this during the first week on one level, but now as they move toward their projects, it becomes increasingly important to have clear vision for how to do the work – not just the idea.

Now, on to my topic. I’ve watched several amazing people over the years start stuff and tell really amazing stories about their work. The pictures are incredible, the progress is noticeable. It’s remarkable. It’s also really difficult to talk about the “behind the curtain” parts of leadership and entrepreneurship.

I’m not going to bore you with the idiosyncrasies of my emotional journey thus far, but I do think it’s important for those who are considering the beginning of something to hear a little bit of the messy side.

Every day, every week requires your 100%. I woke up this morning aware that it was Tuesday. I had to check in with the kitchen if they needed anything, ensure that “La Gorda” (the bizarre name of the woman who has the key to the school) was ready for us, and be ready to go and caring for the trainers who have come to give of their time and expertise. I have had to do this or some version of this every day for the last 4 weeks. And every single day it demands that I’m kind, considerate, attentive, and persistent. This constancy is true for every single person on my team. Each of us have a daily regularity that requires just as much energy as yesterday. And sometimes, guys, it’s just not easy and you drop the ball.

Patience, but persistence. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve run up against this wall in my lifetime and even more so now. It is hard to be patient in persistence. Persistence can easily be confused with bullish demands. That is why it has been critical for me to have people around me to keep me in check as well as a constant prayer life as I walk the streets. I will never settle for subpar – ever – but there are times when stern conversations are necessary and there are times when it’s better to be still.

Seeking out the unobvious drains you. Before we left, I asked our team to be praying for God to help reveal the reasons, callings, contextual components that are not as clear to us. As an example, many of our students struggle with being late to class. There have been times (today was one of them) where they just messed up. They lost track of time and needed the kick in the booty. But there have been other times when the whole purpose of the interaction is getting at the heart of the matter – understanding that someone might just have a problem with prioritizing. So then, the conversation becomes less about the tardiness and more about the skill that needs to be learned. Taking that posture requires a continual heightened sense of awareness that can only come with rest, prayer and frequent reminders to oneself about not going bonkers over small things.

Conflict will not be king. This final piece is one that I’m grateful to have learned early on in my career. Passive aggressive behavior, upset, or division, is just not acceptable in what we are doing. We have had to push hard through this sometimes, guys. It takes a lot out of you – it requires you to be viscerally committed to being open, honest, available, and postured toward resolution. There is no “quitting option” here. This commitment is good and profound, but it takes focus, prayer and a great team of advisors around you.

So when people ask me, “How is it going?” – it is going great. But don’t be fooled, this is not a simple volunteer trip that happens to be longer than most. This is an investment in 12 young people who are doing their best to break out of what they have known to be men and women who will change their culture, community and country. And that requires all of you all of the time.


Hello, My Name is Alejandro

I had one of those moments today. I was watching as the students spread out around the dock and surrounding area to take videos of their English presentations and my heart overflowed with joy and pride. I cannot begin to tell you how cool it is to hear students who were terrified of saying even one word now speaking in full sentences – and all in just 2 weeks!

Michele Sabin has been an incredible addition to our Institute programming. She has been faithful and constant in pushing the students out of their comfort zones to a place where they can say and comprehend some of the basic communication pieces we use every day. We even did a mock doctor’s waiting room where Rachel acted like she was a way-too-busy-for-nonsense administrative clerk taking down names, phone numbers and birth dates. It was awesome. Here’s a bit from her:

But enough words. See for yourself below. Meet one of our amazing students, Alejandro.


Art Doesn’t Need to Be Perfect – It Needs to Say Something

This past week, we had two really amazing artists join us to teach the students about creative expression! The first was our lovely friend, Elizabeth Johnson.  She taught about art history and worked with the students to create amazing master pieces from trash around the city.

Tyler Ramsey

The second was world-famous artist, Tyler Ramsey. I’ve had the joy of working with Tyler in various capacities and it was incredible to have him come and do some performance art with our students and the kids of this town.

This past week was a beautiful testimony to the power of creativity – tapping into the critical areas of our lives and hearts and giving them the space to breathe. Thank you to both Liz and Tyler for bringing art to life for our students. #bebold.