Whether it provides teens with mentoring help to achieve an important project or just someone who believes in them, Youth Frontiers makes a difference – as CAROLYN MILLET learnt.
In the common room of a city nursing home, a teenage boy plays dominoes and laughs with senior residents.
Across town in a church hall, a teenage girl runs a self-defence and street awareness class for women, free.
At the pound, two girls visit unclaimed animals and talk to staff about how they could help find loving homes for them.
And all over town, students are making lists, making calls and making plans to make their world a better place.
It might sound too good to be true – some kind of utopian society – but it’s Youth Frontiers and it’s right here in Tamworth.
Run in this region by YWCA NSW with state funding, it’s a program that aims to develop life skills and confidence in young people through mentoring support to run a community engagement activity.
Adult mentors and teenage mentees have been meeting regularly to brainstorm, plan and launch their projects of passion that will benefit the community.
Today, one high-profile project will explode in a rainbow when two of the participants hold a colour run for people of all abilities.
But behind the scenes, dozens of duos or trios have been working on their own activities.
They’ve included helping elderly people with yard jobs; starting an Instagram page promoting body positivity and self-acceptance; even making care packs for Defence Force personnel overseas at Christmas.
Gone to the dogs
One mentor is Joan Nicholson, a relatively new resident who often works with young people in her role with the Department of Jobs.
She’s volunteering for personal and professional development; as well as getting to know, and giving back to, her new hometown.
Her two mentees are Peel High School students Indy and Haylee, whose mission has been to raise awareness of animal adoption instead of buying from a breeder.
This includes creating posters about adopting versus buying, promoting pets available to be re-homed, making a booklet called Why adopt a pet? and compiling take-home packs with information and thanks for people who adopt from the pound.
Joan says the teens were “both super-quiet” during their first mentoring sessions – “it took a few weeks before we got to the point where we were actually talking about the project”.
Their progress has been notable, she says.
“Some of the activities involved ringing up … the council, Petbarn, Sophie Blue Dog Treats, RSPCA Tamworth [and] they really didn’t want to do it,” she says.
After clarifying the aim of each call, writing down some key points and doing a little practice, they faced their discomfort.
“They got into it and realised that it wasn’t so bad: it lasts only a couple of minutes, then after they felt good about it.”
Joan says one of the key gains the girls have made is learning to adjust their communication style depending on their audience – something she says will set them in good stead in later life.
“It’s also just getting to understand what’s in their community … the knowledge and awareness of what happens beyond school.”
Close to home
Jacinta is a 15-year-old whose project aims to empower women going through domestic violence. It’s inspired, she says, by the experiences of some family members.
She’ll be making a booklet listing local and online support services, plus resources such as healthy, affordable recipes. She also plans an evening session at Coledale Community Centre where women can try the recipes and enjoy the results.
For this, Jacinta has sourced donations of food from supermarkets, and even managed to secure a donated slow cooker.
She says her mentor, Nikki, has been “really good help” and she hopes her resources will make a difference.
“I hope that they use the domestic violence lines, and I hope that people read through … and know that it’s not OK to be part of domestic violence, and walk away when it’s the right time – before it gets worse,” she says.
As for Youth Frontiers, she “reckon[s] more people should be engaged in it, because it helps out a lot, especially when your mind’s not set in the right place; it helps you be calm and be chilled”.
Ashleigh Walton is the Youth Frontiers co-ordinator in this region.
Her role includes recruiting and screening mentors and mentees, matching them, guiding them on starting and developing their projects, and hosting group sessions such as pitch-it and showcase events.
She says the program is for “anyone who’s looking to help others and to make a difference in the community” – and that goes for the adults and the teens.
She says the outcomes for the students are often “amazing”.
“They grow so much with their confidence and leadership skills”.
Change a path
The students who take part in Youth Frontiers are not necessarily from troubled backgrounds, but not all of them come from “the stock-standard life where everything’s rosy”, mentor Peta Wallis says.
A couple of years ago she mentored one student; this year – around work and four children, including a nine-month-old – she’s made the time to invest in four girls.
And that’s exactly what it is: an investment in a promising young person, she says.
Some of her input in mentoring sessions has turned out be no more – and no less – than “a listening ear”.
“This year, we gave one of them a notebook with positive affirmations in it, so when she wasn’t feeling the best or having the best day, she could look at it and remember how strong she was with all the things that she’s achieved,” Peta says.
“I would recommend it for mentors, because sometimes just being there for somebody could change their path … And they are so inspiring, kids, if you just give them a safety net to reach for their biggest goals.”