By Michele Stevens Bernard, TSB Lifestyle Editor
“Mothers of Sons are busy from Son up till Son down.”
So says the plaque that hangs in my kitchen, a Mother’s Day gift from years gone by. As the mother of three sons, I can attest that this a true statement. And, as the mother of three now grown sons, I can also attest to the fact that as they get older, finding opportunities for mother/son time grows few and far between. As they enter the teen years, more often than not, mother/son time gives way to more male dominated activities such as scouting or sports.
Today however, thanks to organizations such as the Young Men’s Service League, mothers and sons now have the opportunity to explore all sorts of ways to bond while serving the community at the same time.
Founded in 2001 by Plano sisters-in-law Pam and Julie Rosener, the YMSL sees mothers and their high school-aged sons working together in a variety of philanthropic scenarios. In addition to community service, the young men also organize and meet independently as a group over the four year period where they are able to experientially learn leadership and life skills. The national YMSL organization came to be in 2005, boasting 14 chapters by 2009. In 2012, McKinney saw its first chapter form.
Mother/son duo, Laurie and Eli Jay are two McKinney members who have answered the call to service through this organization. The Jay family has called McKinney home since 1996. Laurie, like her husband, works in the film industry, and is Mom to three. As the proprietor of Creative Waste Solutions, she also helps business’ implement and manage recycling programs. Eli is a sophomore at McKinney High School, where he takes part in the school’s news station. He is also a Boy Scout currently working on his Eagle Scout Project, a pavilion built at the Trinity Presbyterian’s community garden that captures and harvests rain water for the garden.
Recently, Laurie and Eli took time out from their busy schedules to talk to me about their involvement in this unique organization.
Laurie: I learned about YMSL though a good friend who is also the mom of a friend of Eli’s. The boys were helping clean out stalls at Mane Gait and she mentioned that she and her son had become involved in a new service organization that encouraged mothers and sons to partner in volunteerism. Eli is our youngest child, and only son, so it piqued my interest that an organization offering an opportunity for moms and sons to give back together existed in McKinney.
Eli: I became involved with YMSL because of my mom suggesting it and [after] talking about it with my friends who had also joined. Since it helps with green chord hours and community service in general, I thought it seemed like a good idea to join.
TSB: Tell me more about your YMSL community service?
Laurie: YMSL arranges a variety of volunteer opportunities for the moms and sons each month. What has really impressed me about being part of YMSL is that it’s given us a window into organizations that we didn’t know existed. Several of the organizations we work with match each of us with a child or family that needs help. It’s incredible (and heartwarming) to see these teen aged boys engaging with kids of all ages. The boys arrive as a service “crew” and then they get to work! For the time that they’re volunteering, they are focused on the task they’ve been given.
Eli and I have tutored kids at the housing authority several times. Looking across the room at him working on math problems with a little elementary aged child and patiently giving his undivided attention is really something. He could be doing so many other things with his afternoon, but he’s there helping kids with homework.
Eli: In my community service, I’ve helped Mane Gait, Study Buddies, Bridges Out of Poverty, the Samaritan Inn Store and Clothe a Child. I’ve spent most of my time working with kids, but it definitely helps their parents as well. I enjoy the feeling of helping people and it’s not hard at all to help.
TSB: What has been your favorite experience thus far?
Laurie: I’ve been amazed by how smart and focused some of the kids we’ve tutored are. Most are bi-lingual so [they are] way ahead of me! Several sessions I’ve had the pleasure of working with one little third-grade girl who is very particular about penmanship and the quality of the work she turns in. She loves school and has dreams of becoming a doctor.
For an organization called Bridges Out of Poverty, we watch the children of women learning how to develop skills and tap into resources to break the cycle of poverty. I helped in the toddler room. These precious children figured out pretty quickly that I miss having little ones and they learned if they reached up to me, I’d hold them. I don’t think their feet touched the ground the whole time I was there! I would have never had that time with those children had it not been for YMSL.
Eli: My favorite experience so far was going to the YMSL meeting with Michael Irvin as the guest speaker. All of the meetings have special guests, which make them interesting and fun.
TSB: Do you feel you’ve grown personally and relationally since becoming involved with YMSL?
Laurie: I think anytime you give of your time to those who need you right at that moment in their lives, you can’t help but be changed. Nothing is more important. We all need help at some point, and having networks in place to provide that help and support is what community is.
Eli: I think I’ve grown relationally by meeting different people who have been through different situations. Some of the kids I’ve talked to have made me appreciate my parents and how much they’ve been here for me.
TSB: What is the one thing you want to make sure I know?
Laurie: The mission statement of YMSL is “to assist, serve and support those in need in our community” and that is really what being a member has been about. Along with the service opportunities, we also have separate boys and moms monthly meetings that everyone has a role in. The meetings are structured so during the course of the year, each person has a job and will have a leadership role at some point.
At the boys meeting, there will be a speaker to inspire the boys to be their best selves or address an issue that teenagers are facing today. Eli has come home from several meetings anxious to talk about what the speaker had shared. During the meeting, a group of boys are responsible for putting together a Life Skills and a Leadership presentation. Everyone participates! One thing I appreciate about the meetings is that their cell phones are collected to help the boys focus on the matter at hand.
Eli: It would be good for you to know that YMSL is a mother-son organization, and has us grow in doing community service with our moms. At the meetings, we’ve gradually become more independent and boy led, so that our mom’s aid us, but let us work for ourselves if we want to.
To learn more about the Young Men’s Service League, click here.