Caroline was a volunteer mentor with Transitions UK on its Attain project which supports vulnerable young people aged 17-22 who are leaving care and need help into work, education and accommodation.

What led you to volunteer? Like lots of people, I signed up as a volunteer at the start of the pandemic and have had several roles.  When the Volunteer Matching Service approached me about the mentoring role with Transitions UK, I was immediately interested as I am a relationship counsellor with a particular interest in young people.

How did you get started as an Attain mentor?  I was matched to the charity in December 2020 and, after an initial interview and training over Zoom, I was matched with a young person at the end of January. The team at Transitions UK were hugely supportive. They facilitated my introductory Zoom meeting with my beneficiary which was all about starting to get to know each other as well as identifying goals which I would help my beneficiary work towards.

After that first virtual meeting, I met with my beneficiary regularly for outdoor walks, usually with my puppy which really helped us to connect – thankfully, something we could do even during lockdown. More recently we have met for coffee or lunch, and we also touch base a lot via WhatsApp and Instagram.

How did the role progress? It is fair to say that although all cases are different, this one was quite unique.  It quickly became obvious that the goals identified at our first Zoom meeting could not be addressed without other issues faced by my beneficiary being sorted out first.

My beneficiary – let’s call her M – was at that point in her life where she needed to decide whether to continue with her education, start an apprenticeship or find other paid work. Making a decision about what to do next and taking that decision forward were the goals that we originally identified.

M firstly decided she’d like to continue her education in conjunction with working and so I helped her identify apprenticeship opportunities, spoke to colleges on her behalf and helped her put together a CV.  However, M’s home life was far from settled and she moved from one part of Bucks to another several times in a few short months.  She lived with different members of her extended family and was registered with Social Services for other potential care options, including semi-independent living and foster care.  This meant it was hard for her to put down roots and make plans. She was also becoming increasingly anxious and her behaviour was erratic.

So how did you move things forward? From her perspective, M had had many negative experiences with adults and authority figures which meant she had developed a level of resistance to anyone telling her what to do. I took a different approach. Instead of telling M what to do and how to behave, I worked with M, with social services and her wider family, to help find a permanent solution to her underlying problem: lack of a safe and settled home life. I was her only constant, and by developing a bond of trust with her, it meant that I could be quite effective in helping her.

How have things turned out for your beneficiary? It has taken a while, but M now has concrete plans for a better future. She will be moving away from the area, and although we’ll no longer be able to meet face to face, and I’ll miss our walks with my puppy, we are both determined to stay in touch.

What surprised you about mentoring? I did not expect to be so directly involved with Social Services or M’s wider family.  I had no experience in that field and I had to learn as I went along.

What were the challenges? It was important that I set and maintained boundaries. While I would always keep to commitments I made to M, it was important to remember I’m not her Mum or her social worker. I’m something different, her mentor – helping her find her own way forward and listening and supporting her along the way.

What do you gain personally from volunteering? Although I have three teenage children of my own, mentoring M really opened my eyes as to how tough life can be for some young people, through no fault of their own. Getting to know M has taught me that not everyone in the same situation conforms to the same pattern.

I feel I made a real difference to M. She knew I was there for her and now she messages me regularly, asks for my opinion and shares news unprompted, which is a real success!

What would you say to anyone thinking of volunteering as a mentor? All cases are different – beneficiaries all have different issues and that means different types of mentor(s) are needed.

You don’t need any special knowledge or experience, but you do need patience, persistence and understanding. It is important to be open-minded and accepting of the beneficiary. It takes time and commitment but can be so much more rewarding than other types of volunteering.

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Updated on September 18, 2023

Image courtesy of St Francis's Children Society