Mentors help to support youth

Young people in regional NSW are receiving a helping hand with mentoring thanks to a youth support program.

Children aged between 12 to 16 years from the Riverina to the Far West and Western NSW are matched with local volunteer adult mentors and work collaboratively on a community project of their own choosing through the Youth Frontiers program.

This will be the second year that Lee Meyers from Bathurst will have mentored. In 2017 she mentored at Bathurst High and this year for 6 weeks she will be at Kelso.

What spurred Ms Meyers to mentor was wanting to help students who are going through a tough time. A friend mentioned the program and after initially being a little apprehensive, Ms Meyers decided to give it a go.

“I came from a dysfunctional family and it would have been good to have a mentor myself 40 years ago,” she said.

Ms Meyers said during her first time mentoring in 2017, the student wouldn’t face her.

“But at the end (of the program) she thanked me,” Ms Meyers said.

“Every week I would say to her to just be true to herself and keep smiling... and when the program finished she told me that after each session that’s what she did.”

Ms Meyers said she walked in as a mentor ready to embrace the program.

She said students today are dealing with many personal issues, including identity, race and more, so her advice advice to people thinking about mentoring was to not judge the students and to be fully committed to the program.

“These young adults are trying to find their way through life while dealing with issues both in and outside of school,” she said.

“I’m not a teacher or a counsellor. But I once walked in their shoes. It’s important for the students to know that they can trust you,” she said.

Lauranna Smith also mentored for two years at Bathurst and her reason for doing it was to see whether she could help young people. Ms Smith said sometimes things can get too much and that it was beneficial having someone to talk to and be impartial.

“Mentors can look at it objectively and from the outside,” she said.

Ms Smith said it was good for the students to know that someone was coming in each week to mentor them and was there solely to help.

“It gives them encouragement and support and lets them know someone cares,” she said.

“If they’re 14 years old, or there about, it can be a difficult time in their life.”

One of the things she believes the young adults got back from the program was a sense that the community cared and the sense of wanting to care for other people too.

“I believe it opened them to another perspective of social balances and how people can help one another,” she said.

The NSW Department of Family and Community Services launched the program at Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College on the NSW Central Coast earlier this month.

Save the Children Australia NSW state manager Andrew Smith said mentees would receive a minimum of 35 hours mentoring, including at least 10 hours of one-on-one and face-to-face mentoring.

The Youth Frontiers program focuses on children who are under-engaged in school or local community life and have had limited opportunities to have focused engagement.

“The aim of the Youth Frontiers program is to engage young people through quality mentoring with a focus on building confidence, self-esteem and communication skills,” Mr Smith said.

“Youth Frontiers also strives to enable young people to overcome barriers to community participation by developing team work, leadership and decision-making skills.

“Save the Children is looking forward to working with existing providers, Marathon Health and local young people to help shape the program and put young people’s voices at the heart of the Youth Frontiers.”

Save the Children Australia will deliver the Murrumbidgee service and will sub-contract the Far West and Western NSW district programs to Marathon Health, a not-for-profit primary health care organisation that delivers health services and programs to regional and remote communities.

Marathon Health executive manager of health services in Dubbo Linda Cutler said it was exciting to bring this opportunity to western NSW communities.

“On a daily basis, young people are faced with decisions that will impact their future. We want to encourage them to take the steps to become the best they can be,” Ms Cutler said.

“We’re looking to create a culturally safe space for young people to have fun, build positive relationships, engage with the community and acquire helpful life skills.

“We’re keen to find and work with local community members who will act as mentors to these young people and help them achieve recognition for their contribution to projects in their community.

“In partnership with Save the Children, we are recruiting local project officers to implement the Youth Frontiers mentoring program and will be working closely with schools to identify those that may benefit from this initiative.”

The Youth Frontiers Mentoring Program is an initiative of the NSW Government that has delivered mentoring to about 1,200 young people across NSW each year since it began in 2015.

The program focuses on increasing opportunities for young people to actively and meaningfully participate in their communities.

The program gives mentees an opportunity to build life skills and self-confidence and achieve recognition for the contribution their project makes to their community.

The NSW Government has committed funding for the delivery of the Youth Frontiers program for a further three-year period from 2018 to 2020.