Then & Now – Mentor Gary Sees a “Little Wall Flower” Bloom Into a Sunflower

Every volunteer has their own reason for why they want to get involved, but what they have in common is the impact their one hour a week makes. Some want to pass on what they’ve learned in life, some want to give back to the community, while others want to give young people the help they may not have had access to when they were younger.

The latter is exactly what Gary, a Business Development Manager from North Ayrshire, wished to provide for a young person in his local area, as he explains:

“My reason for joining MCR was to give a young person what I did not get in my school days, which was support. Throughout my primary school experience, I didn’t have many happy memories; I was very shy and lacked confidence. I stumbled through school and by secondary, while I was enjoying school,the damage had already been done. After I performed poorly in my exams, I had the ‘well what do I do now?’ going through my head.

“This is the main reason I want to mentor a young person, to let them know that help and support is there for them. To feel valued, thought of and a contributor to school life and life in general. To build their confidence, give them a meaning, and, with a little push, they can achieve a goal or even a dream. It’s up to them.”

When it comes to mentoring, no two relationships are ever the same. Some hit it off right from the word “go”, while it takes others time to get used to one another’s company and understand what makes each other tick. This is just what Gary found out as he was matched with Sarah*, a fourth year pupil at Auchenharvie Academy.

“I started mentoring Sarah in June 2019 and she was going through some tough times at school. It took awhile for us to lower the brick wall, but slowly trust was established. Once she realised I was not a threat and not someone who was similar to a parent or teacher, we started to establish a good relationship. I decided right from the start to be an open book with them. What you see is what you get with me. We now have a great relationship and talk about anything and I can see a change in my young person – in a good way! Sarah has gone from a quiet little wall flower to someone who can talk confidently to me, express how they feel, what they want in life and offload when something is troubling them.”

When the pair began mentoring last year, no one could have predicted the uncertainty the world would have faced in 2020 with the impact of COVID-19. Without having that face-to-face interaction on a weekly basis, Gary felt lost, as he explains:

“When lockdown came into effect, it felt as if the power had been switched off. Sarah and I were making ground in various areas of school and home life and seeing the results too. Then came lockdown and we were only able to communicate via the pathways coordinator’s email. On a weekly basis, I kept my emails going, sending out positive messages of encouragement and set out mini goals to achieve. I personally prefer face-to-face, as you can see how they are truly feeling or by the way they fidget or sit. In an email this is very difficult as writing may not come easily to them.”

With schools back, Gary is delighted to be able to see Sarah again and they’ve picked up right from where they left off:

“On starting the new term, you could feel the nerves again for both of us. Thankfully, after five minutes, it was back to normal. We picked up where we had left off and thankfully Sarah was happy to talk which, to be honest, made it a little easier to get back into it again. I only hope we do not have to experience something like this again especially when our young people need us more in these difficult times of schooling and home life.”

For anyone who is considering becoming a mentor, Gary has some words of advice:

“To become a mentor is not something you just say to yourself ‘yeah I think I will give it a go’. If you decide to do it, you have to commit 100% from the moment you are introduced to your young person. You can make a change to them and it will change you as a person, thankfully for all the right reasons. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every moment, the ups and downs of it all, I hope to see Sarah fulfil their dreams and become successful in life and get the chance they deserve, regardless of what is thrown at them.”

Thanks to Gary for sharing his honest and open thoughts on his mentoring journey and how he has found mentoring throughout Lockdown and beyond.

Are you inspired to get involved after reading his story? You too can #BeTheBridge between a young person’s talent and potential. Become a mentor today!

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