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Cindi Juncal

MENTORING: The Key to Unlocking Potential

“The single most powerful force for adolescent mental health is strong relationships with caring adults.” – Lisa Damour, PhD

This quote by Dr. Damour caught my attention as I was listening to her speak as a guest on a recent podcast, because ‘strong relationships with caring adults’ is kind of our jam, to paraphrase a younger vernacular. The Noble Path Foundation (TNPF) is a 501(c)(3) based here in San Clemente and is dedicated to raising awareness on the importance of healthy lifestyle choices for our kids. As its founder and a devoted and passionate child advocate for many decades now, I can personally attest to the importance of these connections and the value they accrue. 

On the other hand, Dr. Damour is infinitely more qualified than I am to speak on the topic of mentorship, having graduated with honors from Yale University and worked for the Yale Child Study Center before earning her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan. She has penned three New York Times best sellers and is a regular contributor to The New York Times and CBS News. I have just finished reading her latest book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers – Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents (Random House 2023) and I highly recommend it to any parent who is looking for compelling and empathetic guidance during this challenging period of life. 

One of our most successful programs here at TNPF is called AIM High. The AIM acronym stands for Advocacy, Inspiration and Mentorship, and it is a FREE 7-week enrichment series that focuses on life skills, wellness, and teen mental health. Endorsed by teachers, administrators, physicians, counselors, and the CUSD Board of Supervisors, we pair a small group of students (approximately 15-20, ages 13-18) with speakers who are the leading experts in their respective fields to encourage meaningful dialogues and thought-provoking conversations in order to inspire these types of mentoring relationships.

Our Winter Series 2024 is a great example of a typical stellar lineup of presenters: the OC Sheriff’s Department on Trending Drug Cultures; Laura’s House on Healthy Teen Relationships; our nutrition expert and owner of Total Nutrition Counseling, Melissa Mathes MPH, RD, CSSD, on Why Food Matters when it comes to optimal performance in sports; the County of Los Angeles Fire Department on Basic First Aid; TNPF team members Holly Grupe, LMFT (Balanced Growth Counseling) and psychologist Dr. Nate Balfanz (San Clemente Psych) speaking on Stress and Coping Skills; the Wellness and Prevention Center addresses Social Media and Self-Esteem; and we close out the series with Dana Hills High School Principal Brad Baker Ed.D, on the topic of Leadership. 

In previous sessions we’ve also offered courses on financial literacy, and have had professional race car drivers teach basic auto care. We’ve even been able to take our lessons on the road with a field trip to Craft House in Dana Point, where Executive Chef and owner Blake Mellgren gave a behind the scenes tour of his award-winning restaurant and let the teens cook in his kitchen after a crash course in basic knife skills. For a lesson on entrepreneurship, we visited the OBEY Clothing offices and warehouse, and our group received a VIP tour of their operations and learned how the clothing brands they covet go from an artist’s inspiration to the actual product they buy in the stores. 

Every session concludes with a graduation ceremony where each participant is awarded a Certificate of Achievement from both state and local civic leaders and representatives. Upon reflection, the vast majority of all our attendees will list not only the valuable lessons they learned as their favorite part of the past seven weeks, but also the bonds made with both peers and presenters. 

The small group setting fosters trust and a willingness to open up during the mini breakout sessions following each topic, where we encourage the teens to speak their heart, without fear of ridicule or retaliation. As Dr. Damour writes in her book, “Mental health is not about feeling good. Instead, it’s about having the right feelings at the right time and being able to manage those feelings effectively.” Our goal is to provide a safe and comforting space where young people can feel at ease talking about the topics that shape the world they navigate in. Perhaps the most significant sign of AIM High’s success is the fact that many of the attendees become regulars in our other programs, join one of our TNPF clubs on four different high school campuses, or even return to become peer mentors themselves as a result of these newly formed friendships and their own increased self-confidence.

According to Dr. Damour and other leading experts, caring mentors not only encourage healthy relationships, foster personal growth, and provide guidance and direction – they can also build resilience. By having a trusted adult they can turn to, students can learn coping strategies and gain strength by overcoming adversity when confronted with challenges, a tool that is a critical component of positive mental health outcomes.

Adolescence can, quite frankly, suck for a lot of teens. It’s a critical period in a teenager’s life where they undergo significant physical, emotional and cognitive development. It’s often a tumultuous time, filled with obstacles and opportunities, making it a phase of great vulnerability but also potential growth. If the “single most powerful force for adolescent mental health is strong relationships with caring adults” as Dr. Damour states, our AIM High program may be just the ticket the youth of our communities need in order to reach their highest potential, and remain healthy and whole in the process. And as an added bonus, the course is entirely FREE, as are all of the fun and engaging activities we offer throughout the week.  

For more information about AIM High, and other curriculum by The Noble Path Foundation, please visit our website at www.TheNoblePathFoundation.org. You can check out our Instagram and Facebook accounts for daily updates and pics, or call Cindi Juncal at 949-981-4998 if you are interested in enrolling your teen, volunteering as an adult mentor, or want to schedule a tour of our facilities, located in the heart of downtown San Clemente at 420 N. El Camino Real.

As always, we would like to thank our incredible community partners, benefactors and volunteers for sharing in our goal of raising healthy teens to insure a healthy world – not only for this generation, but for all generations to come. Together, we are definitely better. 


Cindi is President and Founder of The Noble Path Foundation, a 501(c)(3) located in San Clemente, CA, dedicated to helping the youth of our communities reach their highest potential via healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices, safe and fun social activities, and motivational mentoring. For sources and links to the statistics mentioned in this article, please visit our website and search for the article under our blog at ​www.thenoblepathfoundation.org.

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