Mentoring. It’s a concept that has gained considerable traction in the corporate world over the past couple of decades. And, says the Wesley Mission’s Rev Dr Keith Garner, it could help to better the lives of disadvantaged young people across Australia.

“What we’re concerned about is that every year, 50,000 young people in Australia are falling through the cracks as it were, dropping out of education, training and employment…” says Rev Dr Garner, chief executive at the mission, following the release of a research earlier this month showing some of the benefits of mentoring young people.

Rev Dr Keith Garner, chief executive of Wesley Mission (right), and Andrew Scipione, New South Wales Police Commissioner (left), at the launch of the report earlier this month.

Who can be a mentor?

"There are many ways people use the word mentor and clearly in the education system people act as mentors, but we’re talking about something outside of that experience, outside of education, outside of the family," says Rev Dr Keith Garner, cheif executive of Wesley Mission.

"Because very often young people listen to people from the outside, they want to walk their journey, as it were, with somebody from outside of their immediate context...somebody who will walk alongside of them, listen to them.

"The job involves seeing the young person at least once every couple of weeks - perhaps going for a drive or having a coffee and helping with basic things like how to get a driver's licence.

“What’s important from a mentor is not that they have a particular academic or (other) standing in the community. It’s the kind of people that they are; they’re somebody who listens, somebody who can be very patient…You’ve got to be willing to share with people where they are and not try to see yourself in an educational role because it’s not that kind of role."

“One of the things which came out of our studies and also our conversations with young people was that young people actually welcome mentors – it’s not something that they’re afraid of. I think sometimes the image is that these kids are not ready to learn from anybody (and) it’s not true, I think these young people are ready to learn and want to learn.”

The research, contained in a report Give kids a chance: Seeing a better future with mentoring, sought the views of more than 250 young people aged 15 to 25 years in New South Wales in examining the role mentoring from an adult plays in developing young people.

The research, co-launched by New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, found that while 53 per cent of all young people had no real clarity about what they wanted to do in life and no clear plans for the next few years in terms of their career, among those who were mentored between a half and two thirds reported positive outcomes in terms of educational attainment, the quality of their relationships, employment prospects, lessoning anti-social behaviour and reducing smoking, drinking and drug use.

Wesley Mission runs a number of mentoring programs including “Aunties & Uncles” which provides ongoing support for younger children and the EQUIP program in Western Sydney which connects young people with an older adult volunteer.

Rev Dr Garner says mentoring is particularly effective when it involves disadvantaged youth aged between 15 and 19.

“They very often have a narrow view of the options that might be open to them and they often lack the kind of guidance and advice and the normal presuppositions people have got about where you go for help and mentoring, quite literally, can make them see a different future,” says Rev Dr Garner.

“And we engaged in this research we found something like 65 per cent of people who were mentored, their whole world just changed because of the mentoring experience. And the figures even higher – 80 per cent of people – said mentoring increased their sense of worth and had a positive impact on their behaviour and self esteem.”

And as well as helping the individual better navigate the challenges of life, Rev Dr Garner says mentoring can also have positive implications for society as a whole with two thirds of young people saying that took more responsibility for their actions as a result of mentoring. 

“That in itself has got to be good…” he says. “Generally coping with life is much much better if in fact there is a mentoring relationship.”

In response to the research findings, Wesley Mission has released a 10 point plan with the aim of increasing mentoring support within the community.  Among their recommendations are calls for raising awareness of mentoring in the community and implementing a national mentoring plan.

“We’re really talking about strengthening the programs that exist, talking about it more and actually recommending that we take it seriously because in fact it’s not one of those things that‘s very expensive…it’s all relationships and it’s phenomenally volunteer-based,” says Rev Dr Garner.

While the idea of mentoring – in which an adult gets alongside a younger person to offer advice and guidance – is by no means a new one, he says that because of the challenges society is facing “in terms of disfunctionality and dropping out in society, it’s important that we really reinforce that importance of it”.

He adds: “I think for a Christian agency like Wesley Mission, mentoring is part and parcel of what it means to grow as Christian people,” he says. “So this concept is second nature to us because we know that discipleship involves that very often, doesn’t it? – being alongside someone and being guided and helped in that way.”

Wesley Mission, which currently has 170 children and young people on a waiting list to join its Aunties & Uncles program, is seeking donations to help train and support people who have volunteered to be mentors.