HAVE you got one or two hours each week for just 10 weeks to help improve a teenager's life?
That's the goal of Central Coast Secondary Schools Mentoring,, an in-school program providing students in Years 9 and 10 with supportive one-on-one mentoring to plan for their next step in education, training or employment.
Warren Stewart is in his second year as a mentor, having retired to the Central Coast and set himself the target of "serving the community".
He had just walked in from "helping a young man with his HSC exam" when Seniors Newspapers first tracked him down.
This isn't part of the mentoring program, but another of Warren's volunteer positions. He's also a JP, works on the fundraising side of CCSSM (which gets no government funding), and is establishing business links so CCSSM participants can take part in industry visits.
At nearly 70 years old, Warren said he's "full of fire", and would love every Year 9-10 student on the Central Coast to have a mentor if it were possible.
There are currently six schools involved in the program and just 45 mentors, explaining the plea for new volunteers.
"Most of us are retired, and on that basis bring a wealth of experience that no-one else can provide, not even their parents or teachers," Warren said.
"We're talking to 15-16 year-olds and there's no agenda, no judgement or criteria - we're complete neutrals just there to hear what they want to say.
"Often they will discuss things with us that Mum and Dad or the teachers may not know about."
Over the years, that has included one student revealing they lived under a bridge, and another that they had to regularly go to the Salvos for food parcels.
While there are no statistics to prove the program's achievements, Warren said anecdotal examples included potential drop-outs deciding to go on to Year 11 and 12 - he's had three of those - students with better life skills, greater self-confidence, better behaviour, attitude and respect, reduced school absenteeism, and students who have been helped to prepare resumes that lead to jobs.
And the fact that some former mentees go out of their way to say hello when they bump into Warren at the shopping centre, he reckons, says a lot in itself.
"It's not a case of convincing them to go on, or to come to school, it's a case of putting alternative cases for them to consider," Warren said.
"I say to the kids, if you want me to help you, I can't. If you want to help yourself, I can give you a wealth of information.
"It's all about life skills - we're not educators."
No qualifications are needed to be a mentor, apart from being a good listener. Training is provided and volunteers require a police check and must have a Working with Children number (costs are reimbursed).
The six high schools currently taking part are Woy Woy, Erina, Narara, Kincumber, Tumbi Umbi and Berkeley Vale (where mentoring has been running for almost 20 years).
The next training session is in February. For more details or to volunteer, contact Berkeley Vale acting principal Carlie Wells on 4388 1899 or email email@example.com.
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