One year ago, our Friendship Works service ran the first training weekend for Care Leaver Mentors. David, one of the volunteers who attended that weekend, writes about his experiences as a mentor to a young man who recently left the care system.
My wife has been a mentor to a young girl through Friendship Works for a number of years so I have heard from her how valuable the programme is. About 15 months ago, she told me about the pilot programme for mentoring care leavers and I thought that this could be a very worthwhile cause to become involved with. I didn’t have any previous experience of supporting Care leavers, but the Friendship Works training programme was extremely helpful. It was very comprehensive and my experiences to date as a mentor have been entirely consistent with what I was advised to expect during training.
My first meeting with my mentee was six months ago. It was pretty straightforward, as our Case Worker was there too. My mentee was quiet, courteous and responsive and was clearly receptive to the programme. He wasn’t particular talkative but my first impression was that he was an ordinary sort of guy and I couldn’t immediately appreciate why he would need or want a mentor – although this did become more apparent as our friendship developed.
He is an intelligent young man in his early twenties. He is friendly and easy to talk to, but he also lacks self-confidence and tends to shun social interaction – in part, I suspect, due to his life experiences. He is driven and determined to make a success of his life. Despite the challenges he faces on a daily basis, he was able to secure a university place and is on track to successfully completing his first year.
“I have definitely changed his perceptions by introducing him to new areas and a variety of activities”
Our first couple of meetings were in coffee shops, really just getting to know each other and exploring areas of common interest. Now, we often explore different parts of London on foot, using a walking guidebook for direction. This has proven to be an excellent activity as the sights and landmarks along the way have triggered ideas for subsequent trips. We have also been to the theatre (a new experience for my mentee) to see The Lion King, a visit to The Body Works Exhibition in Piccadilly (this is relevant to his studies), restaurant visits and museums. He has begun to take the initiative in terms of suggesting outings and activities.
I have gained a sense of satisfaction that I am genuinely helping a young adult through a very challenging period in his life. I have also learned so much about the challenges facing young people just out of the care system. It is a very different world from my own personal experience and I feel that I have a greater awareness and appreciation of the lives that care leavers lead. He has someone to share his problems and frustrations with in terms of dealing “with authority” as I act as a sounding board for him. I have exposed him to a different side of London. He has tended to view London as an unfriendly and hostile place and I have definitely changed his perceptions by introducing him to new areas and a variety of activities he has not participated in before. He is more aware of what London has to offer. He has also asked me to help with his written English, which he feels needs attention in the context of his university course work, and seems to be particularly appreciative of my help and guidance with this. It has never been difficult to engage in conversation with my mentee, but it has definitely become easier as the weeks have gone by. I would say that we are now pretty relaxed in each other’s company. I have more knowledge of his life and interests, and he has become a lot more open about his past, his challenges in life and his aspirations for the future.
For me, the experience to date has been positive and rewarding and I am very interested to see how the relationship will develop.
Sign up to attend our next volunteer information evening where you can find out more about volunteering to Mentor a Care Leaver.