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Sparking Brighter Futures For Young People

For over a hundred years, Sparkways (formerly Try Mentoring) have been offering a mentoring program for young people. What do some of the young people completing the program today say about it?

“I have learned that I can’t always change things and I have pushed through some things at school which (my mentor) has helped me with and she has encouraged me a lot. I feel safe with her and feel I can confide in her.” – Mentee

“If I have ever needed to talk to someone I could talk to him, had something to look forward to every week, someone older in my life that I could still muck around with and talk with.” – Mentee

Fletcher Curnow, Team Leader of the Mentoring program at Sparkways, says there are currently 23 mentoring matches they are supporting between a young person and a mentor and there will be another ten matches made within a month. The program is funded by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

The program is open to young people who are 7-20 years old, live in the Western suburbs of Melbourne and have had involvement with Child Protection. The mentors do not need to be in the Western suburbs as long as they are willing to travel to the young person. 

There are always more young people on the wait list than mentors. With a laugh, Fletcher says “If we had the money (to promote the program), we can make the number of matches we have from 23 to 1000”. The team has been working on strategies, nonetheless, to recruit mentors including linking with other groups and organisations, along with a recent collaboration with Victoria University. 

The matches are based on the hobbies, interests, locations and personalities of the young person and mentor. The match meet fortnightly over a 12 month period, with the mentor supporting the young person to set a few goals, try new things and, importantly, for both to have fun. They may choose to do the same activity each week or try a variety of activities over the year.

Sparkways offer extensive training before a match is made as well as regular phone check-ins with the mentor to build the skills they need. Additionally, there are 3, 6 and 9 month review meetings with mentor, mentee and parent/carer. There is also peer supervision with other mentors and activity days with all mentors and young people. The screening and match processes are comprehensive and can take up to three months to complete.

A mentor is a trusted adult, a guide and role model to whom the young person can talk to about their experiences without being judged or criticised. Research has found that mentoring helps the young person by building resilience and self-confidence to develop social and emotional skills, as well as the fact that young people with mentors are 55% more likely to enrol in higher education, and 78% more likely to volunteer in the community. 

Fletcher says, “The mentors are really switched on. They are all very aware that their job is to walk alongside the young person, to let the young person lead, they are there as a guide or a facilitator, someone to listen. It’s been lovely to see so many people wanting to give back and give their time.” 

The mentoring relationship works by the mentor being willing to walk alongside the young person, letting them lead. 

“Mentors often say there is a moment in the relationship with the young person – around the 2-3 month mark, where it just clicks over to one of comfort and trust,” Fletcher continued. 

“We help our mentors build those relationships slowly, patience is really important, being consistent and being curious about that young person from the start. Most of our young people have been through some tough times where their relationships have not been the best. They are going to take longer to build their trust and rapport and we put in a lot of our work with our mentors to develop that over time.”

Fletcher Curnow, Team Leader of the Sparkways Mentoring Program

Mentors in the program report an increased sense of purpose, personal growth, and empathy after completing our program. They learn new things, see the world from the eyes of the young person and develop their own communication skills.  All transferrable skills for the mentor in their own lives and at their workplace, says Fletcher.

To find out more about the Sparkways Mentoring Program: https://sparkways.org.au/mentoring/mentoring-faqs, or call 1300 677 275.

“I would tell other potential mentors to do it without a doubt, but only if they are responsible and will not let down their mentee. It is a fantastic experience where I learned a lot by listening and where respect was the key.” Jonathan, Mentor 

“Initially I was quite nervous but Sparkways do a fantastic job matching their pairs. I am a better person for the experience. It’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll do. I couldn’t recommend it more.” Neil, Mentor

“Mentors win by showing up.” – John Sowers

Suresh has worked in individual and group mentoring programs. He worked briefly at Sparkways in 2017.

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Suresh  Ruberan

Suresh Ruberan is a youth worker and is studying a Master of Social Work. He is passionate about social justice and working towards equity for the vulnerable and/or oppressed. He believes in a care-based society that offers time and care to human and non-human animals is essential for the well-being of the world.

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