The true heroes in our life are often not the imaginary ones, but rather the people we see regularly who comfort us and guide us in our daily lives. These people don’t fly super high or have super strength, instead, these people are those we laugh so hard with our bellies hurt and our eyes tear. And when we’re sad, they give us a shoulder to lean on and an ear to talk to. Sadly, for many of the young people Hull Services supports, those regular, every day superheroes do not exist, but this is where Hull’s Mentors Matter program steps in to help save the day.
Hull’s Mentors Matter program works with vulnerable young people and strategically pairs them with a supportive volunteer mentor either through the one-on-one or group pairing options. These mentors are trained to successfully help guide these youth through their healing journey. What makes Hull’s mentorship program effective is the therapeutic approach, under the organizational structure of the Trauma Informed Services Department, both staff and mentors are provided with the support and training they need in order to succeed together and in turn help the youth succeed.
“Our program is unique in that we serve a group of young people who often would not be able to be matched up to a mentor in similar community-based programs,” said Marilyn Boston, Mentors Matter Program Coordinator. “Often, our young people have been affected by complex life experiences including trauma and severe adversity which requires a type of mentor that is screened to be able to manage this, support the young person through tough times, and is open to ongoing training specific to mental health.”
Hull’s mentors give Hull’s young people the opportunity to build a healthy relationship with an adult, have a positive role model in their life, develop strengths and build self-esteem. The positive effects a mentor has on a young person’s mental health and well-being is immense, and for these young people, a mentor can sometimes be the only unpaid support in their lives.
The benefits don’t stretch to just the mentees, there are also many benefits to the mentor as well, from building skills in leadership, management, and strategy, while also experiencing a sense of fulfillment and personal growth.
Karam was at a volunteer fair where Hull’s Mentors Matter booth was set up and the program immediately attracted him. He wanted to experience a new journey on an uncharted path that would challenge him.
“I believe that it was just being a part of something unique and different. Having a shared experience with somebody that I typically wouldn’t,” said Karam. And having the ability to perhaps give something that I would not be able to in an atmosphere that is new to me.”
Karam had never been a mentor or a mentee before, his experience with being a role model for children stretched only as far as being an uncle.
Karam said with the assistance, training and support from staff, he was able to navigate through the process easily.
When Karam first met Skylar, an energized, high-spirited six year old who loves bike rides, games and among his favourite, telling stories, Karam knew building a relationship would be easy.
“The first time I met him, he was a little shy and quiet, but I felt that we had a good connection and it was the beginning of something that I thought would be a great journey,” said Karam. “He’s got a great sense of humor, his vocabulary is excellent, and he enjoys stories and having a good time.”
Skylar has experienced trauma in his past; he has a hard time focusing and the need to guide situations his way, so his mentor had to be someone who was patient, open-minded and understanding.
“I think Karam is a good fit because he is open, honest, willing to chat, listen, and just having the patience to interact with Skylar,” said Debbie Yee, a Mentors Matter Facilitator who works directly with the mentors and mentees. “Giving Skylar the choice to take control, for that can be a big thing for Skylar, to be in control, it’s like that for a lot of kids.”
Karam regularly seeks support from Debbie in order to be the best mentor he can be for Skylar. This support significantly increases Karam’s confidence to succeed.
“The discussions with Debbie were focusing on one or two tasks at a time, and ensuring we had a target in mind,” said Karam. “My successes are due to Debbie and her tools and strategies that she provided me, I am very grateful for that.”
Due to COVID-19, Mentors Matter has had to strategize on how to offer the program that adheres to all government safety protocols. There have been a lot of virtual meetings, which has been difficult.
“We wanted to make sure that mentors and mentees were actually doing activities together in parallel virtually,” said Debbie. “So they were still connecting properly instead of just watching videos and playing games for it’s difficult to build a relationship that way.”
Some of the activities Debbie has suggested include taking virtual tours together, learning a magic trick together, baking together, and making up stories together all through virtual online video platforms. One of Skylar and Karam’s favourite activities is virtual tours and games, especially the online zoo.
“Karam will always go on the zoo cam and he will show me all the zoom animals,” said Skylar. “I really love that.”
Skylar expressed how much fun he has with Karam by talking a million miles a minute, jumping from topic to topic of their adventures of bike riding last summer and telling stories together every visit.
Despite the bumps of 2020, Karam is still grateful for his experience of becoming a mentor and the benefits it’s given him.
“There’s been a lot of great benefits, the main one being in a leadership role, having the ability to become a better leader,” said Karam. “It’s helped me strategize and schedule and better interact with someone that I typically wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with.”
There is another mentor within our program who was also excited about the prospect of being in a leadership role and making a difference in the life of a youth, having only mentored in his professional career.
When Russell searched online for available volunteering opportunities in Calgary, Hull’s Mentors Matter program popped up and the program sparked his interest.
“I liked the idea of working with young people like Noah, I thought it would be a lot of fun and probably a little challenging too,” said Russell. “I approached Hull and I liked what they were doing.”
Russell and Noah have been paired together since July 2020.
Russell describes his 12-year-old mentee as being very energetic, fun, and friendly and someone who is eager to learn, grow and be on the go, which he can relate to.
“Whatever he’s doing, he likes to do things better,” said Russell. “He’s always willing to have a go at doing things differently, too.”
Noah isn’t a fan of basketball, but when Russell suggested attempting the sport, Noah agreed.
“He taught me how to play a bit of basketball at the school park,” said Noah. “I usually don’t like playing basketball but I like playing it with him.”
Noah describes his mentor as “nice” and someone he wants to “hangout with.”
Earning Noah’s trust wasn’t a hard task to complete, just being committed and open has rooted the nurturing relationship.
“It’s been really important to just keep my ears open, to be accessible, to be a good listener,” said Russell. “Listening rather than just hearing.”
When Russell reflects on the ways in which this experience has affected him, it was an unexpected comment from a friend that reminded him just how much he looks forward to his encounters with Noah.
“One of my friends back in England asked me what I was up to on the weekend and I said, ‘it’s obvious’, and they said, ‘you always look forward to that, you’re like that, you have fun together,’” said Russell.
Since the COVID-19 restrictions have become stricter, Russell and Noah’s relationship is still one that is strong and growing. Besides the regular virtual activities they do, they’ve been having a lot of fun texting each other often, the most recent text being an agreement that pineapples do not belong on pizza.
Research shows that when a young person has a positive role model in their life, they are twice as likely to report a strong sense of belonging within their community, twice as likely to graduate high school and almost twice as likely to have pursued further education after high school.
Hull’s mentors may not wear capes, but they work just as hard for their mentees as our superhero’s work to serve and protect.