Wednesday, September 11, 2013

San Diego Visionary Reaches Out to America's Growing Population of Fatherless Boys

The other night on Turner Classic Movies I watched, for the sixth or seventh time, Boys Town, the classic and surprisingly timely 1938 drama starring Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, the tough but compassionate leader of the famous real-life school and community for troubled boys near Omaha, Nebraska. The movie, which also features Mickey Rooney as one of the school's most wayward boys, always touches my heart, and reminds me that there are so many boys and young men out there without fathers. In fact, since 1960, the number of American children without a dad in their life has quadrupled, from 6 million to more than 24 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological or adoptive parents. Thankfully, there are places like Boys Town, which now has 11 locations and continues to thrive. Closer to my home in San Diego, there's another organization with a surprising connection to Boys Town that is also reaching out to boys and positively changing their lives. Boys to Men Mentoring Network (BTM) is a 16-year-old non-profit dedicated to mentoring fatherless teenage boys throughout the world. 

BTM founder Craig McClain
The organization's founder, executive director and visionary is Craig McClain (right), a modern-day Flanagan of sorts who's a family man and has run a successful small business for 20 years. BTM's cofounder is Joe Sigurdson, whose father, Herb Sigurdson, was the director of Boys Town in the 1960s.

Every week, Boys to Men mentors show up at middle schools, high schools and foster care facilities to listen to teenage boys, encourage them, and believe in them. Instead of telling boys what to do, BTM's mentors admit the mistakes they made when they were kids, and tell the truth about the struggles they all face as men. 

McClain, the father of two children and a foster parent, was inspired to help boys make the tough transition to manhood after attending an intense men's behavioral training seminar at age 45 that challenged him to examine the limiting belief systems he formed during his difficult teenage years. He and cofounder Sigurdson have put in countless hours and thousands of their own dollars to make this dream a reality.  

In an exclusive interview with The Reno Dispatch, McClain discussed why he has dedicated so much of his life to this cause.

"I've listened to thousands of boys sharing their hopes and dreams of the man they want to become," McClain says. "Not one boy ever said he dreamed of going to prison, getting hooked on drugs or joining a gang. Yet statistics document the fact that millions of boys face this sad reality. What happens to dash these boys dreams and hopes? Middle school is the time when boys with no positive male role models to support them begin to lose their way. With no man to guide them on the beginning of their journey to manhood, one wrong step is followed by another, and another, and soon good boys become lost men."

Under McClain's leadership the organization has become a thriving international organization, with chapters in 32 cities around the world. More than 6,000 teenage boys have been mentored through the organization since its inception. And of course, the program needs public support to continue its work.

Boys to Men's young surfers
Coming up later this month is the fourth annual 100 Wave Challenge, a popular and fun BTM fundraiser. The surf-a-thon, scheduled for September 21, 2013 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Mission Beach, Calif., will include about 150 surfers who will attempt to ride 100 waves each in 12 hours. The goal for the challenge is to raise $150,000 for the organization, up from $110,000 in 2012. 

Fifteen-year-old Lewis Castrejon doesn't know how to surf, but he's learning how so he can participate in the event. Castrejon is one of 14 boys mentored by Boys to Men who will be surfing in this year's challenge.

"Since being a part of Boys to Men my entire way of thinking has changed," Castrejon said recently. "I'm no longer that angry teenager who hurts other kids and mouths off all the time. I tolerate people better and treat them with the same kindness I know I want them to treat me with. Boys to Men has given me much more than a place of safety; they have given me a place of healing. When I go to the meetings I don't just see friends; I see fathers, brothers and uncles I can trust."

BTM co founder Sigurdson says that one of the great things about the 100 Wave Challenge is it "promotes what we are doing to a specific target audience of mentors that we otherwise wouldn't reach. This gives these mentors a chance to blend their passion for surfing with helping the boys. We have recruited some great mentors from guys who have surfed with us, and then decided they wanted to become a mentor."

Dana Wright, the principal at Spring Valley Middle School in Spring Valley, Calif., said recently, “I find words inadequate for describing the profound impact the Boys to Men organization has had on the lives of several of our students. This program has been responsible for the transformation of some of our toughest at-risk youth into individuals.”   


  1. Fantastic piece on an amazing and very critical organization! Thanks again Jamie! Andrea

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks anonymous! Send me an email and tell me who you are:

  3. We have recruited some great mentors from guys who have surfed with us, and then decided they wanted to become a