Uni students’ experiences of mentoring 9 to 13-year-olds
It’s no secret that the tween years are a tricky time for the majority of us, what with the onset of puberty, multiple school transitions, and the pressure to plan out your entire life.
However, some kids have it even tougher, forced to deal with way more than their fair share of challenges. Upside Youth Mentoring is an Aotearoa New Zealand-based organisation that seeks to improve the lives of young people with adverse childhood experiences by pairing them with a mentor.
Mentors are people from all backgrounds, including current uni-students! Mentors and Mentor Supervisors from Upside were kind enough to share their experiences being involved with the organisation. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to get involved too.
How did you get involved in becoming a mentor at Upside?
Emily Johnson, University of Otago: I heard about it through my cousin who was and still is doing it.
Joanna Foote, AUT: I was looking for a volunteer position and found Upside which appealed to me.
Daniel Mackey, AUT: I heard of Upside through a good friend of mine. She has been mentoring for around six months, and recommended mentoring to me as she thought I would be well-suited to it. I signed up online and was matched within a month or so. It was a great decision to sign up!
Joe Smith*, University of Auckland: I found Upside on a volunteering website, and the process of getting involved was super easy and organised.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
EJ: It means being someone that is actively involved in my young person’s life. It means being a big sister.
JF: It means giving back to communities and helping in a small consistent way. It means expanding communities of people.
DM: Being a mentor means consistently showing up for your young person. It means allowing the young person to be themselves. Being a mentor requires being a good listener, through the good and the bad, and holding a caring, safe space. Being a mentor also means being the best version of yourself [and] practicing positive behaviours in front of the young person, as to show them what a good role model is.
JS: I am a consistent presence in my young person’s life, for whom consistency is rare. I am a compassionate listener. Most importantly, he has my unconditional love.
What are some of the challenges of being a mentor?
EJ: Feeling guilt for growing up in privilege. I have always had a lot of empathy for kids that don’t grow up with a stable income. I haven’t done anything to earn the stable life my parents have given me, so I do feel like I need to give back and use my position of privilege to give another kid the same opportunities.
DM: It is challenging seeing how tough some people have it. Being from a well-off family with parents who are still together, I have never really been exposed to struggles such as struggling to have food on the table or only having a single-parent at home to look after multiple young kids.
JS: It can take time to gain the trust of a young person, especially if they have good reason not to trust adults. I think it took my young person the better part of a year to feel totally comfortable with me (lockdowns might have played a role also).
What are some of the most memorable moments you’ve shared with your mentee?
EJ: Going on a TV breakfast show, painting and creating art, baking, and mainly just the little moments where I feel like my young person has shared something vulnerable and grown confidence.
JF: We went indoor climbing one week then walked up Mount Eden and baked cookies another week. It’s fun doing different activities than I normally would and taking advantage of what the city has to offer.
DM: My young person has only just turned 9 years old, and one of the first times I met him, he told me that all he wanted for his birthday was a mentor and how happy he was to have me hanging out with him. Seeing him open up to me and be able to be himself is so awesome!
JS: My young person [is] slowly opening up to me about troubles at school. Boys are often punished for expressing emotional hardship, so it felt super rewarding when he trusted me enough to be that vulnerable.
What would you say to people considering becoming a mentor?
EJ: There are so many kids out there that would adore some quality time and attention. The kids in the Upside programme are all so grateful. My young person and her siblings have really taught me how to be grateful and excited!
JF: Do it! I thought I didn’t have time in my schedule but actually it’s ‘chill’ time when you are with your mentee and rewarding for all parties involved.
DM: I would encourage people to become mentors if they have a spare two hours per week. This is all that is required and it’s not that much time—it can make such a huge difference to these young people’s lives. It may be challenging and awkward to get along with your young person at first, but in time they will open up and really start to become themselves in front of you, and this is a great feeling. Being a mentor is not only great for the young person’s mental health, it is also great for the mental health of the mentor!
JS: My biggest fear was whether I could be a good role model to a young person, or whether I would have the right answers to his questions. But mostly, my young person doesn’t need answers. He just needs my presence, an open ear, and love.
What do you look for in potential mentors (i.e., qualities, experiences)?
Farrely Falwasser: A heart to want to hang out with young people.
Lazarus Haurua-Long: Someone who is compassionate, understanding, willing to learn and try new things. A good mentor is consistent, has unconditional positive regard for their young person and is conscious of the impact this can have long term.
What does being a mentor involve?
LH: It involves meeting with and hanging out with a young person for a couple of hours a week, once a week, for a whole year. It involves engaging with a young person in ways meaningful to them, which could look like eating food and chatting, or playing basketball for a couple of hours; any way to connect with a young person to build a bond.
What is the purpose of a mentor?
FF: Holding space in a young person’s life, keeping the young person safe, journeying with the young person side-by-side and having fun.
LH: The purpose of mentoring at Upside is to help our young people feel a little brighter and lighter than they did the day before.
What support is available to mentors?
FF: Two-day mentor training, monthly upskilling/training evenings, monthly koha, 24/7 contact to their mentor coordinator or a team member from Upside.
LH: Mentors are able to access support via their Mentor Coordinators. This includes monthly supervision catch-ups, bi-monthly trainings, access to other social agencies e.g., food banks via partners.
Why become a mentor with Upside?
FF: You can make a significant difference in a young person’s life simply by hanging out and having fun through shared experiences and activities.
LH: Because relationships change lives for everyone involved in mentoring including our young people, their whānau, wider society, and our mentors!
What’s your best memory of being a coordinator?
LH: My fondest memory is recently matching a young person with a mentor, to which her guardian at the time said that this was the perfect mentor for their child and that we couldn’t have found a more perfect fit.
Upside is always looking for more uni-students keen to make a difference in young people’s lives. They partner with other organisations such as Springboard in Rodney, Tipu Skills for Life in Tauranga, Coast Mentoring in Whangaparaoa, and PACT in Papatoetoe. So, no matter where in Auckland you’re located, Upside would love to hear from you. You can find Upside online at https://upside.org.nz/about-us/
*Name has been changed to keep student’s identity anonymous
Photo provided by Upside