Ryan: My name is Ryan and I’m a mentor with Children Heard and Seen (CHAS) – voluntary. I’ve been doing this since December 2020.
‘How did you find out about CHAS?’
R: I was looking through Twitter, just scrolling through social media as I usually do, and I saw a post from CHAS looking for a mentor for a 16 year old who was living in the area where I was working. I contacted them to say that I can do it when I finish my shift at 5:00 PM, and go see him in the evening. I then spoke with a member of the team, had a little interview, and decided it was a decent match. So I met with this young person in December 2020 and it went alright – I’m still talking to them now. So it was through social media.
‘What do you think are the benefits to the child you support?’
R: The benefits for him are pretty similar to the benefits for me. I think when people enter youth work there’s this belief that it’s always for the young person, but I’d be lying if I said some of it isn’t for me as well. I’ve had a lot of life experience which has led me to want to help people and through helping people, help myself. I think the benefits for this young person are very similar, in that they’re receiving support, they’re receiving mentorship, they’re receiving someone to just listen to them – someone’s ears for their voice and someone who can just be there. It’s the same thing for any young person you come across, if you can provide them with that space to speak and that space to be heard – as opposed to just being listened to – actually hearing what they’re saying – I think you can’t put a price on that. I know from conversations I’ve had with this young person that they’ve not always had that space to speak, they’ve not always had that luxury of having someone there to listen. So being that person, being that point in their life at an age and time when they need it given everything that’s going on – of course the charity is there for a reason – I think that’s integral for their development, and also again for my development too.
‘What do you get out of volunteering?’
R: I think for me it’s good for my development as a professional, but also as a person. Voluntary work, obviously you don’t get paid for it, is not for the money, it’s not for anything materialistic, it’s purely for the joy of helping someone or the sense of purpose you get from doing it. For me, being able to volunteer with young people and offering them my time, that makes me feel good but also it gives me something to do, and it gives me a purpose. It keeps me mentally stimulated, keeps me grounded and emotionally enables me to develop. I see a lot of myself in these young people I work with. Every job I’ve done I come across someone who’s very similar to me or has a similar story to the story that I experienced. I can see myself in them and it just flicks a switch in my mind. All of a sudden I’m aware of something that went on many years ago that I now have an answer for. It kind of helps me out in that way.
‘What is your favourite memory as a mentor?’
R: There’ve been a lot of times where I’ve walked away from a one to one and thought to myself ‘yeah this is youth work, this a proper bit of good work done there.’ There was a time when this young person talked to me about their little box that they find themselves in. There are all these professionals stood outside that box, and they were telling me that myself and the member of staff from CHAS – we stood outside that box and waited for permission to come in, whereas other professionals kicked their way through. They stepped in that box without consent and just made them feel very uncomfortable, very pressured, and very suffocated. That to me was almost confirmation that I’m doing the right thing. Not just the work I’m doing, but I’m doing the right thing by being involved with this charity. When people talk to me about the work I do, that’s always the first thing that comes to mind as a memory.
‘Do you feel supported by CHAS?’
R: I’ll be honest, I don’t really speak to anyone from the charity unless there’s a safeguarding concern. I’m quite confident and comfortable running the sessions how I feel is appropriate. I know youth work, I know young people, and I know safeguarding is. I know what needs to be passed on and what doesn’t. I know who to contact if there is a safeguarding issue and I know who I need to get in touch with. Despite the fact that I’m not really engaging them in regular communication, they’re always contacting me about events that are going on and about things that they want me to be a part of. There is that regular support there if I want it – I just don’t explore it because I’m confident and comfortable in the work that I do. I know they’re there if I need them though.
‘What do you think makes a good mentor?’
R: I think being a good mentor is just about being a good person. It’s about being authentic and being real. I know a lot of people who have worked with young people who try to sell this belief that the world is great, everything’s fun and there are no troubles. There’s no authenticity behind that. If you can say to the young person ‘I know the world is a bit crap, I know society can be this and that.’ It’s about recognizing things that these young people are experiencing and then giving them a little bit of hope by saying ‘but there’s this, but there’s that.’ I’ve worked with young people for about five years and I’ve always been quite successful with that because of my lived experience. I’ve got experience of being that young person that perhaps wasn’t heard, wasn’t seen, and that’s certainly gone a long way. That enables me to be authentic, so I think when it comes to being a good mentor, I put authenticity at the top. Then you’ve got respect, honesty, communication – being clear on what your objectives are, clear on why you’re there, and not making promises you can’t keep.
‘What would you say to someone who’s thinking of becoming a mentor?’
R: If you want to do it, do it. I would ask the question – ‘why?’ Is it solely for you, or solely for young people? I think personally there needs to be a bit of both. I think you need to be getting something out of it for it to feel stimulating and for it to feel necessary. Do it – but don’t go into it blind.