Want to change lives? Sparkways is looking for ECEC volunteers to make a difference
People are drawn to working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) for lots of reasons – for some it’s the freedom and creativity that only working with young children can provide.
For others, it’s an opportunity to give children the best start in life, and to set them up for long term success. Regardless of the reason that’s spoken out loud, there’s one thing which unites and inspires all members of the ECEC profession – the desire to make a difference.
It’s this desire that Sparkways is hoping to connect with in 2023 – the 140th anniversary of the organisation, and it all starts with one simple question – can you help us Spark a Change?
Most of us can recall a teacher, a mentor, a neighbour, a coach or a family friend who planted a seed of success, either by helping us through a moment of adversity, by providing advice, or simply by just being there, in good times and bad.
Sparkways has, for 140 years, been about people, and about setting children and young people up on a pathway which will help them be the best version of themselves that they can be. This happens in Sparkways ECEC services, in its community involvement, and most importantly, through its mentoring program.
Mentor can seem like a big word, and can conjure up images of someone rich, successful, academically inclined, or with years and years of experience to offer, but in fact, a mentor can be anyone with a passion to make a real difference, and to encourage the person they’re supporting to see the world in a different light, and to believe that they can do more, and be more.
At Sparkways, mentors are non-judgmental adult friends, who are there to get to know the child or young person, and to walk beside them through whatever pain they are experiencing because of disruption to their lives.
For young people who are registered with Child Protection services (and that’s more than 45,000 children aged between 7 and 21 in Victoria alone) mentors are all the more important. Addiction, family violence, substance abuse, parents who can’t control their anger, and families who struggle to cope with the pressures of life… the reasons they are removed from the care of their parents and are in out of home care are many, however the outcomes are sadly often the same – children and young people left struggling to make sense of their world.
ECEC professionals have seen firsthand where these stories begin, but many have wondered…what happens next, and how can I help? Some in the sector are in a position to directly care for young people removed from their homes, but for those who aren’t able, mentoring is a great way to make a difference, and build professional experience in dealing with children and young people.
Sparkways’ mentoring program matches young people in need with adult volunteer mentors, who walk beside them for 12 months and build relationships based on mutual respect, helping the young person to build confidence and self-belief to allow them to transform their lives.
Right now, the number of young people who need a hand is exceeding the number of mentors available, and that’s why Sparkways have taken the initiative to reach out to ECEC.
“We know that when it comes to caring and compassionate individuals, you’d have to look pretty hard to find kinder people than those in the ECEC sector,” Sparkways CEO Daniel Findley said.
“In our network of 45 services, I get to see each and every day the level of commitment and compassion that ECEC professionals bring to their roles. We would love to have their support in changing the lives of the children and young people who need a champion, through our mentoring program.”
For those who are unable to commit to regular mentoring, Sparkways is inviting ECEC communities to set up a one off, or regular donation to support the program.
The mentoring program has been tried and tested, and is now well established, however funding and support is required to stick with a format which yields significant results. Heavily supervised by qualified counselors and a psychologist, the mentoring program is ‘people intensive’ to get results for the children and young people who need it the most.
Funds are used to support the existing processes and programs around mentor recruitment, to help mentors to grow their skills, to support activities for mentors and mentees, or to fund aspects of the program such as graduation ceremonies, training and support.
“In essence,” Mr Findley said, “this is a program that aims to repair lives. A year-long chance for a young person to turn things around with the help of a safe and caring adult.”
All mentors are given training and support, are monitored weekly, and have access to assistance as needed.
“In our 140th year, we continue to focus on our founder’s legacy, which was walking beside youth to empower them to build a better life,” Mr Findley said.
Sparkways are currently recruiting for mentors in the Western suburbs of Melbourne and the need is dire. If you, or anyone you know is interested in becoming a mentor, head to https://sparkways.org.au/mentoring
If you aren’t able to volunteer you can donate to keep the program running at https://spark-a-change.raisely.com/.
You can also register to become a mentor or find out more by emailing [email protected]
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