What Can We Learn From Elephants?

In order to catch the perpetrators of this violence, the wardens decided to strategically position hidden cameras. They were shocked to learn that the rhinos were being harassed and attacked without provocation by a herd of young bull elephants. These "teenage" elephants were chasing the rhinos, assaulting them and in many cases stomping them to death. Why were these elephants acting so violently? The wardens concluded that a poor decision made years before by the park officials had led to this unnatural behavior. The officials had made the decision to move the older and more mature bull elephants to a different game preserve but to leave the young ones. These young elephants grew up without the presence and influence of older and more mature role models. They had become unnaturally violent and had killed the rhinos.

How did the park officials address this problem? They decided to bring in older elephants to see what effect they would have on the herd. They were surprised to see that it didn't take long for the older elephants to take their place among the herd as leaders and role models. Eventually the younger bulls began following the older ones and their behavior changed. These former lawbreakers returned to normal patterns of elephant behavior. There has not been a report of any dead rhinos since the arrival of the more mature elephants.

So what does a story about elephants in South Africa have to do with young people in the city of Saginaw? There are many young people in our county with complex emotional and behavioral challenges who have very limited opportunities. What struggles do these young people face?

1. 97% have had serious problems at school (poor academic performance and attendance or behaviors that have resulted in formal disciplinary action)
2. 96% have behaved in ways that are quite offensive to others or have placed others at risk. (Youth with these behaviors have difficulty making and keeping healthy relationships.)
3. 95% have been seriously non-compliant or dangerous at home. (Parents of these youth likely struggle with feeling tired, ineffective, and/or resentful.)
4. 92% have struggled with serious mood symptoms such as depression, anxiety or reactions to a trauma.
5. 57% have committed repeated or serious illegal behaviors.

We have a tremendous opportunity right now to effect change by coming alongside the young people of our community. Saginaw MAX System of Care was developed to help meet the unique needs of youth with complex emotional and behavioral challenges. It is a partnership of all the child- and family-serving agencies that can provide services to these youth. PACT (People Achieving Change Today) is an LLC local to Saginaw County whose purpose is to empower caring people to achieve change in their communities. PACT is contracting with Saginaw MAX System of Care to coordinate mentoring for young people in Saginaw County, and it hopes to bring value to their initiative by recruiting, training and overseeing a team of volunteers to mentor these young people.

How can you make a difference? You can become a mentor and add value to the life of one young person. What if each one of them could have a caring adult in their corner to provide support, counsel, friendship and a constructive example? Would that make a difference? What is the value of mentoring? Studies have demonstrated that mentoring produces many positive outcomes:

1. Mentors help keep students in school (students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class).
2. Mentors who help with homework significantly improve their mentees' academic skills.
3. Mentors help improve a young person's self-esteem.
4. Mentors help keep young people away from drugs (youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking).
5. Mentors provide teens with a valuable place to spend free time (roughly 40% of a teenager's waking hours are spent without companionship or supervision).
6. Mentors teach young people how to relate well to all kinds of people and help them strengthen communication skills.
7. Mentors help young people set career goals and start taking steps to realize them.
8. Mentors can use their personal contacts to help young people find employment and through modeling a good work ethic they show them how to keep employment.
9. Mentors show a young person that there is someone who cares about them.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor or learning more about PACT, LLC, contact me at 810-488-0914 or tkuhns@optrans.