Fendalton - Ilam
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Mentors giving youngsters a chance to make it
by christine de felice
Matching young people that haven’t had the best start in life with mentors that can offer them friendship and support as they grow up is the role of the Bryndwr-based organisation Big Brothers Big Sisters. Manager Matthew Button explains: “It’s about creating new possibilities for young people that didn’t get a decent start in life and don’t have the things you would expect children to have. In the mentoring programme they are given a chance to make it in life, to do well because of the support their mentors give them.” The organisation works with schools, social workers and community agencies to identify young people that would benefit from the mentoring programme, Matthew says. The mentors are all volunteers and cover a wide range of ages, from 18-80. “The average age is 30-35, and we also have a lot who are in their 20s. But we are always looking for retired folk – they are extremely gracious with the young people,” he says. “They are often what the young people need, especially if they have no grandparents in their life. These older mentors show an interest in them, teach them skills, and spend time with them. “Mentoring is not about solving their problems, it won’t change everything. It’s about giving them rich quality time, showing them they are worth something and making them feel a bit special. That builds their selfconfidence, so they can lift their head up a bit.” Mentoring is about “starting something”, Matthew says. “You don’t know what will happen. It could be something small, like them visiting the beach for the first time, or something profound. One example of that is a young person who had been living in a home where there were drugs. Their mentor had been supporting them for eight years, and that
experience resulted in the young person moving out of the drug situation and training to be a teacher.” Before entering the programme, prospective mentors are carefully screened, and once accepted, they undertake a training programme before being matched with a young person the organisation believes will be a good fit. “It can take some time to find the young person who is best matched with the mentor, and once that happens, it’s important for the mentor to stay alongside the young person for as long as possible, as it is that long-term commitment that brings the most benefits,” Matthew says. For the first year, the mentor spends one to two hours a week with the young person. Sometimes this is in a school setting, but usually the pair meets after school or at the weekend, when they go on an outing. After a year the situation is re-evaluated, and if it is working well, the two continue their relationship. Over the next few years the time spent with each other reduces, with the young person leaving the programme when they turn 18. If the mentor then wishes to continue in the programme they are re-matched with another young person. The Big Brothers Big Sisters organisation originated in New York 112 years ago and from there it spread around the world. It has been in New Zealand for almost 20 years. The Christchurch group developed out of the North West Mentoring Trust, with Matthew being the trust board’s first employee in 2004. The trust was rebranded as Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2007. There are currently 125 mentors supporting young people across Christchurch, and the organisation is always looking for more. “We are very keen to recruit mentors in the older age group in particular, as they have so
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Fendalton Ilam Gazette 13-06-17