Speaking about Mentoring…

Tillamook Kiwanis Banquet Speech

Neal Lemery

September 30, 2015

Thank you. It is a pleasure to be with you on this special evening, as you honor your organization, and your service to our community. This is a sweet and special celebration of good works.

Kiwanians have always been known for your service and your dedication to improving the lives of others. You make a difference.

You bring about change, and you are people who change other people’s lives.

The famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

I believe that each one of us is a powerful instrument of change. When I worked as a judge, I saw that people were hungry to change their lives, but many people simply didn’t know where to begin. Life was too overwhelming, and they had been told throughout their life that they were failures, and weren’t good enough to achieve success and realize their dreams.

And, most people don’t have anyone to believe in them, who believe that a person can take those few hesitant steps forward in the right direction, and start changing their life.

You and I don’t accept that model of how the world works. We believe in making a difference, and bringing about change, one person at a time.


I’m a strong believer in teaching by example, and the power of mentoring.

Every one of us needs a strong person in our corner, someone who is our champion, our cheerleader — someone who believes in us, and where we are going.

When I was growing up, and, indeed, throughout my life, I had the benefit of strong, compassionate people — people who believed in me, and believed that I could achieve great things, and realize my dreams. My mentors weren’t Superman, and they didn’t have magical powers. But, they believed in me, and took the time to encourage me, to support me, and to give a nudge now and then, during the times when the going got tough, and the road ahead was rocky.

It is astonishing to me that there is such great power in a few kind words, and some time spent over a cup of coffee, offering the hand of friendship and a little push in the right direction.

I had the benefit of good parents, and growing up in times when there were strong families and vibrant, caring neighborhoods and communities. I grew up with a sense of optimism and hope, in a time when our nation’s leadership challenged us to travel to the Moon, and to “think not what our country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.”

Leaders challenged us to dream, and to declare war on poverty, racism, and ignorance.

Today, our country faces great challenges, and, once again, we are rising to the challenge of making a difference, and improving lives.

Our tasks are not easy.

I work with young men in prison who are fatherless. Most of my kids haven’t had a visit from family in over a year, and most of the time, its four or five years. In their world, anger and disappointment, and living without hope has been the norm.

The national statistics are shocking:

85% of youths in prison come from fatherless homes.

90% of homeless and runaway kids come from fatherless homes.

85% of the kids who have behavioral problems come from fatherless homes.

71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.

And, 63% of kids committing suicide come from fatherless homes.

Not having a strong, healthy father figure in a young person’s life has a huge impact on their life. That’s not rocket science, by any means, but society in general doesn’t seem to get too worked up about that. But I know I can change those statistics.

I’m all about change. You’re all about change. How does each of us make that happen?

I believe it starts one person at a time. And, that means one cup of coffee at a time, one chat with a kid in your neighborhood, one handshake, a few kind words to someone who is struggling. Its taking on the work of a father or a mother with a kid who needs a healthy adult in their life, someone who takes an interest in them, someone who cares.

It truly takes a village to raise a child.

I go to prison every week, and visit some kids. I spend time in their garden, helping them with their plants, teaching them something they didn’t know about gardening. And, there are so many other lessons to learn there, not only for those young men, but for me.

I meet with young men one on one, too. I drink coffee and talk with some kids about their school work, and how they are changing their lives. I try to be a consistent, positive role model, someone who cares about their lives and where they are going.

I don’t do this work by showing up as Mr. Expert, or putting on the black robe of a judge and lecturing them about the law and responsibility. Instead, I show up as just me. I meet them on their own terms, and become their friend. I listen, I support them, I cheer them on. And, most importantly, I believe in them.

We are fortunate to have the Youth Authority in our community. It is a place of healing, and a place of great change. The teachers there set high standards, and, every week, I see young men getting their lives in order, and making the changes they need to make. It is a place of hope and a place of courage.

Most of the guys out there tell me that being in that prison is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. It’s a place where someone cares about them, and where they are safe, and can make the changes they need to make.

You do this work, too. You are out in the community, meeting kids and other folks on their own terms. You’re out there volunteering, doing service work. And, people see that. They see your example, and they know that you care. You are people of action, people who are changing the world, one person at a time.

You listen, you encourage, you help them light their candles, so that they can find their way in life. And, they find their way because they know you are there, that you care about them, and that you are willing to spend the time with them that they need.

You are the builders of this community and you are the builders of the men and women of the next generation. I commend you for that, and I congratulate you on doing the hardest job there is to do. You care about someone, and motivate them to feel that they are worthwhile human beings.

In that, you change the world.

Thank you for all that you do.

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