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“Listening and Showing Up”: Mentors making a difference for young people in juvenile justice

To mark International Volunteer Day 2022, we spoke with Rachel, one of our wonderful volunteer mentors working with a young person in juvenile justice in Western Sydney.

Rachel has been a volunteer mentor with us for about six months and, in that time, has formed a great relationship with the young person she works with.

While a little nervous when they first met at Cobham Youth Justice Centre, where Len* is currently in custody, Rachel said that didn’t last long, “I explained my intentions and why I was doing mentoring, and we just started getting to know each other. We both had similar interests in sports and music, so there was a lot to talk about.”

From there, the mentor/mentee relationship flourished!

As they’ve gotten to know each other better, Rachel says Len is more relaxed, and their sessions together now involve a lot of laughter and joking.

“Len recently shared with me all the common slang used inside Cobham and in his peer group, which I find intriguing, and I share other slang I’ve grown up with or heard, and we laughed a lot about that.”

Apart from discussing their shared interests in sports, Rachel loves running, surfing and yoga and is “currently trying (failing at) gymnastics”, and Len loves soccer; as time has passed, they have also had deeper conversations about their values, opinions, and goals.

Len is using his time in juvenile detention to complete a Diploma in Sports Management through TAFE. He is also participating in a music program that teaches music theory and production, which he is really enjoying.

Rachel is supporting Len to stay focussed on his goals and is someone for him to talk things through when he is faced with obstacles.

She says that it’s hard for Len to “maintain hope and motivation in the face of uncertainty while he remains unsentenced,” but that despite this, he is hopeful and resilient and is “actively working to improve himself as a person”.

“He participates in scripture, prayers, and conflict resolution inside, as well as journals, reads, and sets goals for himself,” Rachel says.

As well as supporting Len to stay motivated, Rachel is helping in practical ways, including setting achievable goals, supporting him with administrative tasks that are daunting or confusing, helping with TAFE work, and looking into documentation he might need to achieve future goals like enrolling in University.

Becoming a mentor was an easy decision for Rachel.

She’s been interested in youth justice since supporting a younger family member during a difficult time, including time in the mental health and criminal justice systems.

“That experience made me realise the immediate value of community and peer support.”

For the young people we support, having someone reliably ‘show up’ who is ‘on their team’ is often a new experience and can make all the difference in helping them to improve their futures.

“There are many ways to help a young person, but I think what I would emphasise is listening and showing up,” Rachel says.

“Being a reliable, non-judgemental and invested person in a young person’s life who simply shows up to talk with them and truly listen … has a powerful impact on someone’s sense of self-worth, agency and desire to move in a positive direction.”

Rachel joins SHINE for Kids with an incredible wealth of knowledge and skills.

Currently working as a Product/UI Designer for a software company, Rachel completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations / Economics at UNSW and recently completed a Graduate Certificate in Sociology/Social Policy (focusing on Youth Justice) at the University of Melbourne.

She says that with her interest in policy and advocacy, it made sense to get a “more personal and human understanding of the issues faced by young people in detention or upon release”, and her time as a mentor is helping her to gain an “incredibly valuable perspective and also [helping] to make a more immediate positive impact on a young person’s life”.

“Before I started volunteering, I had a strong sense that I needed to do something more than just work for myself.”

“Now that I have started, I feel like I am serving a community and engaging with society in a more meaningful and rewarding way.

“I also love working with the other SHINE for Kids staff and mentors and drawing inspiration from them. My conversations with the team have been so enriching and whole, and I feel like I am growing as a person through this experience of mentoring with SHINE for Kids.”

Rachel recommends mentoring to anyone wishing to positively impact a young person’s life.

The mentor/mentee relationship so far has been rewarding for Len but also for Rachel, “Len is quite a reflective person, and I always find I learn a lot from our conversations. He cares a lot about his friends and family”.

While there is still some way to go, Rachel is sure that Len’s “resolve, resilience, and ambition” will see him thrive when he’s released.

She looks forward to supporting him to navigate the challenges of enrolling in University (one of his goals), finding employment, re-integrating with his community, and maintaining positive peer influences, as well as “exposing [Len] to different, joyful activities he might enjoy”.

Len, who comes from a culturally-diverse background, also mentioned he hopes to return to his home country overseas and to travel one day again, and Rachel would enjoy helping him achieve this goal in the future.

“My experience so far has been very fulfilling, and I hope to continue mentoring with SHINE for Kids in the future”.

Thank you, Rachel, for the great work you are doing and for being such a support in this young person’s life.

Please donate today and support young people in juvenile justice.

Thank you to Impact 100 Sydney for funding youth mentoring at Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre. 

“Listening and Showing Up”: Mentors making a difference for young people in juvenile justice

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