Having a mentor, someone to offer advice and role model behaviour can be invaluable for both young people and adults. Over the next few weeks, Dominic Hoey is going to be talking to mentors from different backgrounds to find out what makes a good mentor and why we need more of them.
Personally I didn’t have a lot of positive role models growing up. So when I was asked to be a mentor as an adult, I continually turned it down, thinking what can I possibly teach anyone. Then in 2013, I was laid up with what would turn out to be an autoimmune disease. Again I got offered an opportunity to be part of a mentor program. I was sick of lying in bed staring at the ceiling and so I joined up and began what turned out to be a life-changing journey. The organisation was Nga Rangatahi Toa (NRT), a charitable trust that works with young people to offer support, and help them transition into employment or higher education.
I caught up with Executive Director of NRT Huia O'Sullivan to talk about the importance of mentors for both young people and adults.
Huia has been setting up and running mentoring programs for over a decade. She got involved with NRT after she was shoulder-tapped by one of her former mentors from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, who thought Huia’s skill set would be an asset to the organisation.
“She saw the opportunity within NRT to be able to bring my skill set over, to be able to further strengthen and develop the youth development side and also the mentoring and the arts.”
Huia is now running NRT, and among her many responsibilities is recruiting mentors.
“A lot of the time when I’m screening mentors they’re like 'Yeah we wanna give back' - that's not enough for me,” Huia says when I ask her what she looks for in a mentor.
“I need to know you're not going to let that young person down as other people have in their lives. Sometimes that's not sexy. Mentors need to be consistent every week, not over-promising stuff and just being there - getting off their phones and just be present with the young person.”
Huia speaks passionately when we’re on the subject of young people. This passion led her to be on the advisory board for the Vulnerable Children's Action Plan with the Ministry of Health.
“I need to know you're not going to let that young person down as other people have in their lives.”
She advocated for mentoring to be written into legislation. “Evidence-based research across the world has shown that when young people are supported in a one-to-one relationship outside of the family, they’re more likely to thrive, they are more likely to positively contribute to society, they are more likely to want to achieve further goals.”
Another important aspect of any mentoring program is who the mentors are matched with.
Huia with some of the rangatahi
“The match is really important,” Huia says talking about how a lot of mentors feel they’re not cool enough to hang out with their mentee. “Sometimes young people don't need cool, they don't need a bro, they actually need an adult that will step in there, hold that line for them. Because sometimes with our young people that might be the only positive role model that young person has seen in their life.”
Huia says that growing up she had mentors “both formally and informally and I’ve actually gone out and sought them as well.”
“It’s not about changing young people. It’s about working with where they’re at.”
Huia recently worked with Tim Walker through The Big Idea’s Mentoring in the Arts programme. Tim helped her restructure NRT.
“Tim was awesome, he was what I needed at the time to further grow and develop NRT for where we were at. I could work with him and accept critique and challenges, I knew that he came from a position of love.”
Nga Rangatahi Toa camp
“It’s not about changing young people,” Huia says as we wrap up our conversation “It’s about working with where they’re at.”
Nga Rangitahi Toa have their annual Manawa Ora show coming up from October 8-10 at Auckland's Basement Theatre. It’s a chance to see the rangatahi and their mentors in action. I’ve been involved in past events and it’s a memorable, inspiring and moving experience.