How do you start a mentoring project? The same way you start any other project: Define the purpose, pick a specific goal, and decide on the steps necessary to achieve that goal. This is the story of how my first mentoring project started and succeeded.
In 2010, while trying to hire an engineer to work with me on RC (radio control) engines, I ran into an unforeseen issue. Most of the newly graduated engineers had little to no hands-on experience with tools. The short story: I decided to do what I could to rectify the situation instead of just complain about it. My purpose was to pass on hand-tool skills to teenagers. My goal was to do it by building wooden boats together.
Space and Kids in One Place
G2g Wood & Boatworks is based in Monticello, IL, a small town of about 6000 people. The only sea around us is the sea of corn and soybean fields. When I talk about having a wooden boatshop in town, one of two things happens. Either the person I’m talking to flees from this obviously crazy tale or they dig in to the conversation.
Without the necessary space at my house, I set about finding suitable shop space and participants to teach. I found both through my local church. We had a 16 x 24 outbuilding and a youth group. I approached our church leaders with the idea and quickly gained access to both the space and the youth group.
After careful consideration and advice from the Wooden Boat Forum on Wooden Boat magazine’s website, we chose a suitable design. We ordered full-size plans for the 14′ Flat Skiff from Bateau Boats out of Florida. I found the necessary marine-grade plywood and made a quick day trip to Chicago to pick it up. As far as supplies went, we were ready to begin. But the condition of the workspace had to be addressed first.
The church’s outbuilding was designed and built for storage. The organization of such storage spaces tends to fall into disarray, and such was the case with our new shop space. The first work party gave us a clean and organized work space. We even had a nice, level concrete floor where we assumed a gravel base would be. Bonus!
Some aspects of the space, however, would hamper our efforts. There was no electricity and no heating or cooling system. We ran long extension cords from the main church building and later used a generator for electricity, but the heating and cooling would remain an issue. Central Illinois ranges from 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to the upper 90s (and sometimes over 100) in the summer. The glue we would use (epoxy) can only be applied between 50 and 85 degrees, so our work days would be limited.
We started with three or four kids and chose to work in three-hour blocks on Sunday afternoons from 1:30 to 4:30. This allowed us time to eat after church, and it gave the kids time to get home before evening youth group activities. Using the full-size drawings, we drew full-size, or lofted, all of the plywood parts. In short order, we had these cut apart with a jigsaw and sanded to their proper lines. We were on our way!
We built the boat using the “stitch and glue” construction method. Plywood panels are stitched together with wire, and thickened epoxy is applied to all of the joints and seams to lock everything in place. Things started to happen pretty fast, and we had a boat-shaped object within a few Sunday afternoons of work. Then the little tasks threatened to swamp us.
In the Doldrums
Any project or endeavor encounters times when things start to get bogged down. Little detailed parts rear their ugly little heads to slow progress. Head scratching ensues while difficult, seemingly impossible tasks get sorted out. My advice for these times: press on. Try something. If it doesn’t work, regroup and take another tack. Don’t let yourself lose all momentum. This is especially important when kids are involved. They will understand that there may be a delay as a solution to a problem is found, but they won’t hang around for too long as you search for the “perfect” solution. They will move on. So move ahead, trying different avenues to attain your goal. You need to do this for yourself as well as the kids: it is too easy to get stuck and quit when the inevitable problems show up. Press on.
Our first boat project took about three years to get on the water and we had eight different kids contribute to the project. Some stayed longer than others, but they all added their own special personality and challenge to the project.
Delays come in all different flavors. In addition to the temperature problems I mentioned before, my own desire to do something “perfectly” bogged us down. It’s easy to get caught in the minutiae. Even after this learning experience, I still find myself occasionally getting bogged down. Counter the temptation with self-awareness to recognize when you are heading down this path, a vision of the future, and a lot of persistence. The overall good you are doing is worth the extra effort. Many days will seem effortless and will fly by. Others will have you dreading going in to the shop and working through the next task or problem. Such days will balance themselves out, and your program will benefit in the end.
Once a year at the end of August, our church has a special baptism service at Clinton Lake, our nearest serious body of water here on the prairie. The morning service is followed by a fried-chicken lunch and then an afternoon on the water — skiing, sailing, or going for lazy boat rides. We chose this day to launch our skiff Redemption for the first time. She was sans exterior paint, but she was watertight and waterproof with a few layers of epoxy on everything. Our trailer still needed refurbished, so we loaded her on the back of a flatbed and headed for the lake.
With oars loaded and a donated 5 hp outboard motor attached to the transom, into the water she went. She floated right on her waterline. The two kids who helped finish the project were there — beaming from ear to ear. Just like I was! I made them both take a turn at the oars before firing up the outboard for a quicker trip around the lake. We had a grand time sharing our new boat with anyone who wanted to go for a ride. Then we packed up before dark and returned her to the shop to be truly finished.
But this single boat was just the start of an even larger story. One that still goes on…
Start Your Mentoring Life!
I hope this story inspires you to consider your own G2g Mentoring Program based on whatever it is that lights your fire. You can build a program like this around anything you are passionate about: bowling, cooking, fishing, geocaching, hunting, music, painting, photography, podcasting, running… It simply takes the desire to make an improvement in someone else’s life and the persistence to pursue the goal. Join the Mentoring Lifestyle and Share Your Life — you will be so glad you did.
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