A few good mentors needed

SOMETIMES you can surprise yourself: like the men who are persuaded to sign up to Anglicare's Buddies program. These are blokes who do not think of themselves as role models.

Despite expectations, they discover that they do have something to offer the young men they mentor.

"We've heard a lot of the men say, before joining the program, 'I don't really see myself as having any great skills or anything to offer a young person'," program co-ordinator Damien Litchfield says.

" I think it's through experiencing the group based program that they realise, 'Hang on a minute, I've got a whole life's worth of life skills and things that I'm good at."

Anglicare is looking for men from across the south-eastern suburbs, including Monash, to take part in its Buddies program to give boys and young men a positive male role model.

The program, established in 2001 to provide lasting support for foster children, relies on volunteers to make up its mentor base.

"Their role is, I guess, to be a genuine, caring influence in the young person's life and to be consistent and regular," Mr Litchfield says.

"I think just having somebody that's checking in with you every week that's not your parent can be a really powerful thing."

Engineer Andrew Symons, 26, heard about the program from a friend on Facebook. His curiosity was piqued after he turned up for an information night.

"I'd grown up through Scouts and Cadets and all these other sort of community-minded groups," Mr Symons says. "When this opportunity was put in front of me, it sort of just clicked with me a bit."

As part of the mentoring role, Mr Symons speaks to his charges about behaviour and choices.

"You just focus on the kids you do have a bit of contact with and do what you can. Even with that, there's no specific goal or outcome from it. We don't expect the kids are going to be changed at the end of a 10-week program, but maybe in a couple of years, they might remember something you said."

Mr Litchfield wants more men from all walks of life to volunteer as mentors. He says a lot of the men who become involved end up making changes in their own lives.

"They really find it benefits them in ways that they didn't imagine. They've realised that through getting involved in a volunteer organisation that they're actually making new friends, learning new skills, networking and socialising.

"I think it's just getting over that hump or jumping in the deep end, so to speak, in terms of giving something new a go and realising that young people aren't that scary. They can find common ground there."

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