Shaping Young Men Through Adventure at Journeymen Asheville

The hero’s journey is by far the most common arc in film and literature but is viewed less often as a real process adolescents experience as they transition into the adult world. Joseph Campbell, a 20th-century American professor and great mind of the time, explored this journey in many different cultures, concluding that the hero’s journey is an important process for adolescent men, and if they face it with courage and a willingness to explore their thoughts and emotions, they’ll be better prepared for the years following teenage confusion and rebellion.

This is what Journeymen Asheville has set out to do, and after speaking with Jordan Foltz, Journeymen Asheville’s director; and a couple of the young boys who have started their journeys into adulthood, it’s obvious how important the conversation surrounding masculinity and the transition from boy to man is and always has been.

Jordan is the full-time director of Journeymen, a small nonprofit that has grown considerably since its start in 2008. Until 2014, the organization was entirely volunteer-based. While he stays busy with enrollment, program management and mentoring the young men in the program, his mission to make a difference in the lives of young boys has remained focused. Jordan speaks of teenage rebellion and the organization’s goal to redirect the impulse to live dangerously by presenting these boys with a “Rites of Passage.” This is a weekend-long adventure meant to mirror the hero’s journey.

“We do all sorts of crazy things in our teenage years, and we don’t understand it as a society. We don’t know what that impulse is, and we kind of seek to suppress it in Western society through medication and amping up supervision,” he says. “But what these kids are seeking is an initiation. They’re pushing those boundaries and coming closer and closer to danger. It’s ingrained into our DNA to seek that during that time in our lives. We want to bring them through that threshold in a healthy and conscious way so rather than seeking it through drugs or driving recklessly or whatever it might be, they are getting a close encounter with their deepest emotions, which can feel exhilarating and scary, and they have to drill on that same sense of courage to get through it and to the other side with a sense of empowerment. That’s the intention of the Rites of Passage. They’re going to try to initiate themselves one way or another, and we try to give them a powerful and healthy opportunity to do that.”

The Rites of Passage isn’t spelled out, either. There are 15 young men who go in as initiates, 15 other young men who have been previously initiated, and anywhere from 35 to 50 men who come together to participate and encourage the young men in the process. When it happens, it’s meant to be an adventure into the unknown with little to no expectation.

“The purpose and the power of this weekend lies in its capacity to be an adventure for the young men. If they see an agenda on the website, they’ll start deconstructing and analyzing it,” Jason says.

Just as in a powerful story, the journey ahead is unknown, and along the way, the hero has to face many obstacles, both physical and emotional. That’s the goal of this initiation process.

“It puts them in a position where they’re able to look within and draw on their inner resources, and in that process, they discover strengths they may not have known they had,” he says. “It’s really empowering. It’s about being emotionally mature men who aren’t reactive, abusive or bullyish who can really be authentically themselves.” 

Jeremiah McLaughlin is a J-Man, and his willingness to speak openly about his experience with Journeymen exuded confidence.

“It’s an experience to help you become a man through trials, and it also helps you become a leader,” Jeremiah says. “When I did it, it was kind of scary. You have to acknowledge your surroundings without anyone you know there.”

Now, Jeremiah is part of a program within the organization that focuses on the day-to-day and where the young men are excelling and where they can grow. Jeremiah has gained the confidence to become a leader through this mentorship, and he’s continually facing personal accountability, which builds empowerment and responsibility.

Jeremiah returned to the Rites of Passage weekend to help the new initiates navigate this new adventure.

“It was three weeks ago. It was fun! You get to help people overcome the fear of telling their truth,” he says. “I just want to encourage people to come. You don’t know what to expect, and it’s surprising.”

When asked what his plans are after he finishes school, he says, “I definitely want to hike the Appalachian Trail. Then, I don’t know. I’d like to move to Florida, California or Atlanta.”

But until that day comes, Jeremiah is going to continue his time with Journeymen Asheville, and he’ll be well-prepared for the world when it comes time to explore beyond the mountains of WNC.

Through the programs offered and the Rites of Passage weekend, Journeymen Asheville is working to shape the men Asheville will soon be welcoming into the community as young adults. The mission is not to enforce any brand of masculinity, but rather to normalize the strong transitional period adolescents have to navigate, messy emotions and all.

When asked what words of wisdom Jordan had for his younger self, he says, “The words I would have would be words of encouragement instead of words of wisdom. Wisdom is something that you generally have to find for yourself through experience, trial and error, and success and failure. I’d tell myself—and anyone listening—to try to take the temptation that we all have to escape empowerment and instead embrace the immense responsibility that comes with it.”

Journeymen Asheville is actively seeking male mentors, especially those of working age, and board members of diverse professional backgrounds. If the time commitment is too much, Jordan asks that the community spreads the word to those who may be willing to give some of their time to mentoring these young men, whether it be ongoing or just for an immersive weekend during the Rites of Passage. And above all, in our everyday lives, to spend a little less time trying to dictate what the terms are and a little more time showing up for each other. Then we’ll see everybody—men, women, boys and girls—with more power.

For more information, contact Jordan Foltz at 828.230.7353 or JourneymenAsheville@gmail.com.