Volunteers make a difference to communities throughout New Zealand, one young person at a time, finds Dionne Christian

On any given weekends, all across New Zealand, there are people who are volunteering their time to guide and advise young people. These volunteer mentors belong to a raft of programmes (some home-grown; some international) which aim to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

Programmes may involve one-to-one mentoring or be in a group or community.

Big Brothers, Sisters

Started 110 years ago in New York City, this programme has been in New Zealand since the late 1990s. Each year around 800 young New Zealanders aged 7-18 have a mentor in one of its 15 Big Brothers, Big Sisters locations.

It matches an adult with a young person who shares their interests, who meet a few times each month. The pair can spend their time doing activities like hanging out in a park and kicking a ball around, going to the movies, sports games or museums, playing computer games or whatever they enjoy most.

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NZ national director Dave Marshall says that most kids can benefit from a mentor: "We tend to go against the idea that you only need a mentor if something is wrong. If you want to get better at something, then you can often benefit from the input of a mentor - and most of us have experienced this at some point in our lives - so our programme is for any child or young person who wants a mentor."

Dave says while the young people gain confidence and acquire or develop new skills, mentors get the satisfaction of seeing the world through a child's eye and realising the possibilities that can open up.

"Being a mentor is about being a friend and someone to look up to."

bigbrothersbigsisters.org.nz

Around 800 New Zealand children are involved in Big Brothers and Big Sisters each year.
Around 800 New Zealand children are involved in Big Brothers and Big Sisters each year.

YWCA Future Leaders

The very mention of rock climbing makes Sina Wendt-Moore and Rose Fata-Leone smile. Sina, the CEO of not-for-profit trust Leadership New Zealand, and Rose, a former McAuley High School student now studying health science at the University of Auckland, cheerfully admit rock climbing isn't something they ever thought they'd do.

But it was one of the many experiences they had as part of the YWCA Future Leaders programme. Future Leaders pairs girls aged 14-18 with female mentors who act as friends and trusted guides on the journey through adolescence. It is organised through schools, but mentors come from the community.

For four years, Sina worked with Rose to develop leadership skills, confidence and resilience through both formal activities and informal days out, and chats. Sina, whose own children are grown-up, became involved because of a desire to actively nurture young women with leadership potential; Rose wanted to develop those skills as well as push herself to try new things such as public speaking, physical activities and meeting people from diverse backgrounds.

"You have to be committed; you can't just sign up and then change your mind," says Rose.

"You have to make the most of the opportunities that come your way by going to the workshops, which are held regularly, connecting with other people on the programme and maximising your time with your mentor. "

akywca.co.nz

Participants in the year's YWCA future leaders.
Participants in the year's YWCA future leaders.

NZ Society of Authors

Got a budding young writer at home planning the next great New Zealand novel, poem or play? Now in its fourth year, the NZSA's youth programme is open to students aged 15-18 who are matched with an author.

They can discuss a specific project they're working on, improve their writing and get tips about their project, either face-to-face, by phone or email. Applications for this year's mentor programme close April 1. Send a sample of writing, a letter of support from their teacher or, if home-schooled, parent or guardian

authors.org.nz;
ors.org.nz

Pillars

Started in 1993, Pillars helps build a positive future for the children of prisoners and break cycles of crime. Statistics show that children of prisoners are six to seven times more likely than other children to end up in prison, but intervention can change that.

Chief executive Verna McFelin says community mentors must be prepared to undergo rigorous screening and training before they are matched with a child.

"If the volunteers stick through the whole [vetting] process, we know they're good people who will go the distance," Verna says. "Every mentor has to sign up for a minimum of a year; any less and it can add to the separation anxiety a young person may already be experiencing."

Mentors see the child for at least two to six hours a fortnight, making contact at least once a week. The mentors work alongside the Pillars social workers which means mentors can focus simply on being with the child, enjoying activities they're both interested in.

pillars.org.nz

Voyager New Zealand

With the country's biggest maritime heritage collection in its care, the museum wants to ensure that heritage doesn't just become static displays. Its heritage sailing programme, led by Stuart Birnie, now pairs knowledgeable volunteer crew with younger, less experienced sailors to pass on their knowledge of the ancient skills, keeping them alive (see previous story). Contact the museum to find out more.

maritimemuseum.co.nz

First Foundation

First Foundaation brings schools, volunteer mentors and funders together to "bridge the opportunity divide" for talented but financially disadvantaged youngsters making the move from school to tertiary education.

Though scholarships are provided, the foundation is about a lot more than money. Businesses provide paid work experience, the guidance of a mentor and workshops.

Former De La Salle College student John Belford-Lelaulu says it helped keep him on track while he studied architecture at Unitec. Guaranteed holiday work at Telecom took some financial pressure off but also helped him learn the dos and don'ts of a formal workplace.

Mentors Raphael Yan and Rich Easton shared their experiences of tertiary study with John, helping him to negotiate his first few months at Unitec. Thanks to this help, John has now entered the Masters programme.

"It provided a chance for me to pursue my goals and gain confidence," he says. "Taking some of the financial pressure off me and my family and having extra moral support was fantastic. It would have been a lot tougher without extra people around to support me. I will definitely look into becoming a mentor myself, as it's essential to keep inspiring others as First Foundation has done for me."

firstfoundation.org.nz

The Roots Creative

The Roots Creative Entrepreneurs are a prime example of how mentoring can extend to entire communities. The collective of artists, architects, engineers, designers and musicians focuses on inspiring the next generation through creativity, sustainability and connectivity. Its first community-based projects had 36 high school students building sculptures from 8000 plastic bottles for the Otara Town Centre.

Since then, the collective has worked with students, graduates and urban professionals on Big Art Day projects at Auckland Art Gallery, eco-villages at last week's Pasifika, and sustainable artworks .

Inspired by his time with the First Foundation, John Belford worked on The Roots' installation at Silo Park for the recent Sea Week, and says it's a great way to encourage people to become more involved with creative industries and endeavours. facebook.com/TheRootsCreativeEntrepreneurs or theroots.org.nz

Auckland Philharmonia

The city's only full-time professional orchestra offers the Rising Star programme, where "young composers-in-residence", mentored by the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra's actual composer-in-residence, Kenneth Young, create works that are then performed in the orchestra's education concerts. It's a rare chance for a young composer to actually have a piece performed. APO Scholarships, for people aged 16-22, bridge the student and professional music worlds. APO musicians share the sorts of things you need to be a professional - everything from preparing for concerts to dress code and stage presentation.

APO Orchestral Fellowships for university music graduates aged 30 or under also include mentoring as well as playing as a paid member of the orchestra. Essentially it's a finishing school for young musicians.

Musical mentoring from Auckland Philharmonia.
Musical mentoring from Auckland Philharmonia.

Need to know

The New Zealand Youth Mentoring Network is a great place to find advice, training and access to the latest research and resources. Programmes listed here meet save practice protocols to protect mentors and mentees.

Find out more at youthmentoring.org.nz