Vashon’s teenage population has become a topic of worry for many islanders in recent years, as fears about drinking and drug use arise out of a supposed lack of age-appropriate activities.
According to the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA), the statewide Healthy Youth Survey has “consistently indicated underage alcohol and drug use is higher on Vashon than state averages across all grade levels.” But the problem of raising teenagers into adulthood requires going beyond drug and alcohol use and dangerous habits, at least according to islanders Alex Craighead and Nicky Wilks. The two have founded a new organization to offer the boys of the island an opportunity to start manhood off on the right foot. Armed with their own experiences of being teenagers on Vashon, Journeymen aims to revive the concept of a boy’s rite of passage into manhood by way of mentorship through nature, community and a network of role models.
“The boys in our communities do not have the proper guidance and support that they need in becoming a well-rounded young man,” Craighead said in a video posted on Wilks’ Facebook page. “Our goal … is to provide a transformational experience, to help our youth discover and refine their authentic self.”
Tucked into a corner at Snapdragon last week, Craighead, a physical education teacher at Chautuauqua Elementary School with a masters degree in education, and Wilks, who holds an MBA and has more than a decade of experience teaching youth sports, spoke to the need for the organization. Both men, now 28, grew up on Vashon and admitted that they were best friends who “caused a lot of ruckus and mischief” during their teenage years.
“There was a lack of activities and a lack of healthy mentors,” Wilks said. “There was so much self-destruction.”
The two believe that western society has lost the tools needed to initiate boys into manhood. The rite of passage that used to come from separating a boy from his reality and his family to reconnect with nature and elders in an effort to find himself has been lost, the two say, as has the mentorship and community aspect of raising men. So they are bringing it back. Starting this summer, Journeymen will offer two 10-day rites of passage in which island boys will convene with Wilks, Craighead and a large group of older island men who will serve as mentors at Journeymen’s camp at the AYH Ranch.
“The summer events are camp-based,” Craighead said. “In the middle of those 10 days, we will leave the island for four days and three nights to go to the remote wilderness and prepare these boys for 24 hours on their own. We will teach them to build shelters, fires, protect themselves and ultimately reflect on who they are as a person, their independence and their interdependence on family and friends.”
But the goal isn’t to ensure the boys can survive in the wild or learn the skills to do so, it is all about taking them out of their element to find themselves, open themselves up to new experiences and then return and be mentored into the men they feel they will be.
“If we don’t create these rites of passage, they create their own dangerous ones: driving a car really fast, drinking, drugs,” Craighead said.
Wilks elaborated by explaining that society’s rites of passage from boy to man revolve around sex, getting a driver’s license and going to college.
“So then you do all those things because that’s what society told you to do and now what?” he said. “We ask a lot of questions. We are just providing a loose structure for them to learn about themselves. there is so little of us saying, ‘This is what you need to do.’ It’s us asking questions at opportune times and co-creating what they want to be.”
They said that while many organizations offer either outdoor retreats or long-term mentorship, few, if any, marry the two by reinforcing the attitudes and revelations had at retreats.
“We want to create this bond and then have ongoing support,” Wilks said. “Participants will be offered a full year of mentorship with meetings multiple times per month. We want to talk about authenticity and integrity and be a sounding board.”
While the organization’s first rites of passage retreats will be this summer, Journeymen is beginning outreach efforts with three events throughout the month of April. The first of these events will be a talk by Australian author and adolescent development expert, Arne Rubenstein, entitled “Parenting, Technology and Modern Rites of Passage.” He will also lead a leadership training and a father-son adventure weekend.
Rubenstein’s book “The Making of Men” is a handbook on parenting boys and Rubenstein has designed programs and seminars aimed at supporting boys to successfully make a safe, healthy transition to young men.
Reached Saturday via a video call to Australia, Rubenstein expressed excitement about Journeymen and the opportunity to bring his concepts to the United States. He said the proliferation of depression and anxiety in young men can be traced back to this lack of support during the teenage years.
“On a collective level, we’re realizing our young men need more than just going to school. They are really missing something,” he said. “What do boys need? They need support in the transition from boy to young man. With the breakdown of community models, we need to find elders and support young people.”
Like Craighead, he stressed the need for the creation of an event to mark the change from boyhood to manhood — a rite of passage — in order to prevent the dangerous ones that teens create on their own.
“The key elements of a rite of passage are to create a transition from the child model of thinking — it’s all about me, very egocentric with a servant mother and a hero father — to a healthy model of adult behavior — being part of a community, being responsible for actions and looking for genuine relationships,” he explained.
Arne Rubinstein events:
7 to 9 p.m. April 19: “Parenting, Technology and Modern Rites of Passage” talk at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium. Tickets are $10 presale and $15 at the door.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 21: Rites of passage leadership training.
April 21-23: Father and son adventure weekend at AYH Ranch on Vashon. Two days and two nights of bonding and learning. Cost is $550 for lodging and food.
For more information and to register, see journeymen.us.