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Comment: Join me in giving an hour a week to give back to our community
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Comment: Join me in giving an hour a week to give back to our community

On a recent visit to Bairnsdale, former Chief Commissioner of Police and National Ice Taskforce Chairman, Ken Lay, had a clear message relating to ice use. He said police cannot arrest their way out of this and governments cannot fund their way out of this – communities have to take some control of their own destinies.

This comment can be applied to many of the social problems we experience in society and it got me thinking about what we can locally to assist our youth that are perhaps lacking direction in their lives and lacking good role models.

For some time I have been aware the successful Gippsland East Mentoring program that is run through Workways Australia with current State and Federal funding.

The program screens, recruits and trains mentors to assist vulnerable young people in East Gippsland and it has already made a huge difference to many young peoples’ lives.

While it has “runs on the board” in relation to assisting our region’s youngsters from avoiding the pitfalls of life, it is not achieving its full potential for one reason – if it had more mentors it could assist more of our region’s youths who need support.

The young people involved are identified by their schools as needing a “significant other” in their lives who can listen to their concerns and assist them to develop confidence.

The program’s aim is to increase the young person’s self-esteem, improve their relationships with peers and family, encourage school attendance and help them feel connected to the community.

Youth mentoring has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of supporting young people and can have positive effects in changing behaviour and building confidence in young people who might otherwise lose their way.

Mentors come from all walks of life - the young to the more mature and the retired to the fully employed.

Some local businesses in the area have also joined the program to offer their employees as mentors as a part of their commitment to the community.

The employees are then able to spend time with their young person during their working hours. This has proven to be both positive for the employee and the employer.

Once training has been completed the mentor is closely matched with a young person. Volunteer mentors receive ongoing support during the match.

The pair then spends approximately an hour a week together (in school time) for a minimum of six months to a year or more. Often the mentor and student continue with their friendship beyond this time on a more casual basis

The project employs a part-time coordinator and assistant whose role it is to recruit mentors, provide training, match mentors with students, and provide on-going support to matches.

Volunteers are always needed with most schools having a waiting list of students.

I am putting my hand up in the hope I can assist a young person with some guidance. If you are interested in joining me and becoming a mentor please contact Workways.

Our community will be a better place for it.

To finish this column I will leave you with one mentor testimonial:

I wanted to make a difference in a young person’s life. I remember what it was like to be young and how it wasn’t always easy, and it would have been great to have someone to talk to who wasn’t going to judge me. I have learnt to really listen and put myself into someone else’s shoes. It’s not always easy but what I’ve found is that they don’t want you to fix things for them, just spend time with them and listen. It is one of the most rewarding things I have been a part of.