Finding mentors for disabled dreamers

By Simon Collins

Cameron Calkoen missed out on his dream of representing New Zealand at the Paralympics, but now has his eyes fixed on a new kind of gold medal - matching disabled people with mentors who can help them to fulfil their dreams.

Mr Calkoen, a 24-year-old from the North Shore with cerebral palsy, did represent New Zealand at the cerebral palsy championships and on an indoor running track at the World Indoor Championships in Sweden.

But last night he took a big step towards his new goal when he was named one of six winners of Vodafone's World of Difference awards, which will pay him to work for a year on his Carabiner mentoring scheme for the disabled. I never made it to the Paralympics. I stopped last year after winning the Australian championships," he said. "There's a bigger gold medal out there. For me, it's involving Carabiner."

The Carabiner scheme, named after the connecting link in a rock climber's gear, has so far matched up disabled people with mentors in radio, marketing, dancing, information technology and architecture.

Henderson architectural draftsman Jared Seymour, 26, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, has been matched with one of the country's foremost architects, Pip Cheshire, 58, the lead designer for Auckland's Britomart railway station and part of the design team for Wellington's Te Papa.

Mr Seymour goes everywhere with a dog called Samson, who is trained to look after him when he has an epileptic seizure.

Mr Cheshire has given him the job of creating three-dimensional computer models of historic huts in Antarctica, including all the objects inside them. Plans made from his models will be taken down to the ice next week to be used by conservators who are gradually removing, restoring and returning every item in the huts.

"I work mainly from home because Pip helped me to get the sponsorship for the software which is installed on my computer at home," he said.

"I come in [to Mr Cheshire's office] once a week or once a fortnight to get an idea of how I'm doing."

Mr Cheshire, who was born with one leg, said he agreed to be a mentor because he had had nothing to do with the disabled since he was 10 years old and "I thought it was time I did".

Mr Calkoen said mentors were not paid and were asked to commit themselves to two four-hour, face-to-face meetings a month for a year.

Their "mentees" are aged 18 to 26 with a physical disability and "passion and enthusiasm towards a specific goal".

He is now looking for mentors for a young woman with leukaemia who wants to get into journalism, a woman with spina bifida who wants to work in animal welfare, and a young man whose passion is web design.

* Mr Calkoen is based at the Yes Ability Centre in Albany, (09) 414-5360, cam@yesability.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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