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Vanessa O'Loughlin

MATES MENTORING

MATES RETURNING IN-PART 

We know from numerous reports and research that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has taken a toll on our community, particularly our young people, either directly or indirectly. 

Our children and young people have faced unprecedented turmoil and exposure to trauma which has impacted on their overall wellbeing. They’ve experienced a collective of negative events; events that singularly would cause stress and anxiety for most, including loss of employment, social restrictions and having to adapt to remote learning. Our most vulnerable young people have faced even more with an increase in family violence, exposure to alcohol and other drugs, and household financial stress. 

A Raise Foundation report estimates that up to 15% of children will experience significant mental health symptoms following exposure to an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

MATES Mentoring, now 10 years established, which has been implemented across regional Victoria to support the wellbeing of children and young people, was put into hiatus with COVID-19 restrictions. 

WSMLLEN is pleased that the MATES Program will be returning to the Wimmera and Southern Mallee region in a format involving off-campus mentoring which may take place with very detailed protocols to minimise any risk to mentors, mentees and the broader community. In-school (on-campus) mentoring will not operate until further notice. 

Mentoring has a valuable role to play in supporting young people in the Wimmera Southern Mallee region and is now more important than ever.

In the coming week, WSMLLEN will be reaching out to current mentors and the broader community to seek support for our young people. We will be hosting a virtual information session on Friday 30th October at 1 pm. Potential volunteers can learn more about the program and the COVID-safe protocols. 

For further information please contact MATES Project Officer, Vanessa O’Loughin, via email mates@llen.com.au.

 

The Privilege of Learning to Read

While doing some research recently, I came across some alarming headlines: ‘Reading Wars Raging’, ‘Low literacy affecting our economy’ and ‘The Social Costs of Inadequate Literacy’. Each one was an Australian article dated in 2019. The articles’ headlines were specifically designed to evoke a great deal of emotion and action.

As a mother of two boys aged nine and ten, I feel very fortunate that both of my children are ‘at standard’ for their age in literacy. Whilst they both had a few visits with a speech pathologist in their earlier years to improve pronunciation, neither were deterred from reading. Both boys came into the world surrounded by storybooks. From babies, my husband and I would snuggle down with them, read with much animation and search the pictures for clues—where is that Green Sheep hiding?

Certainly, in their first years of school, it was a priority to sit down and ‘do their reader’ and carefully mark it off in their take-home reading diary with a sentence explaining how wonderfully they had tackled the book. This was then validated by a sticker from their teacher. Even now, we have a ten-minute reading rule every day, although it needs some enforcing at times when competing with basketball, the Xbox, and Lego. Our chosen school has a terrific reading program, a great big library full of bright and interesting books, plus reasonable class sizes and passionate teachers.

Upon reflection, I can only sit here and think, ‘Wow! Our children have really been given the privilege of learning to read’. We have had the privilege of:

  • Accessing a speech pathologist during early learning to nip in the bud any pronunciation issues
  • Having the financial discretion to buy an abundance of books and the capacity to visit libraries and reading events
  • Having both parents at home most evenings who had the time and energy to invest in sitting and reading.
  • Having a peaceful home without tension, conflict or other priorities
  • Parents who were aware of strategies to reinforce positive reading experiences
  • Access to grandparents and extended family who attentively read and encouraged their endless chatter about a ‘Pug called Pig’ and the artistic flair of a kraken.
  • A school that prioritises reading and reading support programs similar to that of the Reading Buddies Program.

Through the LLEN’s work to support early learning, I am acutely aware that the privilege of learning to read is not dealt equally to all children, particularly in rural areas. In some areas, there is limited access to speech pathologists. Some rural areas also have high levels of disadvantage and a range of social complexities that directly impact on a child’s early language development.

When the privilege of reading is removed from children and they fail to reach adequate reading standards, there are consequences. Studies indicate that young people with low levels of literacy will:

  • Be more likely to drop out of school early
  • Be less likely to gain meaningful employment
  • Become more reliant of the public health system
  • Be more likely to engage in dangerous use of alcohol and other drugs
  • Be more likely to engage in risky behaviours
  • Be less likely to be involved in community activities
  • More likely be linked to youth justice and other social welfare programs.

Whilst, as individuals, we cannot solve the complex social issues that many children face, we can certainly take the ‘village’ approach and do what we can where we can. Improving access to books and reading seems like a great place to start. So here are my commitments:

  • I will clear out children’s books that have been outgrown and donate them to charity, or to the LLEN for the pop-up libraries.
  • I will continue to volunteer in schools and advocate for the Reading Buddies Program.
  • I will put a book or two under the wishing trees at Christmas time.

I would welcome your ideas and commitments towards tackling the inequity in learning to read and to see if we can rewrite the headlines for our community. In some instances, it really does take a village…

Impact of Mates Mentoring

MATES has the potential to shift the long term trajectory of these young people’s lives.

The outcomes of the program have proven to be profound for all parities involved. Schools report that for students that have participated, there have been evident behaviour improvements; increased connection with schools; stabilised relationships and enhanced life skills amongst may other benefits.’

These were the findings of in independent review of the Mates Mentoring program conducted in 2016.

MATES has been designed as a model which is easy and effective for all schools to implement and this is reflected by the high rate of program uptake. There is no cost to schools to run the program.

The program connects vulnerable young people (mentees) with positive role models (mentors) and aims to increase the engagement of young people within their school and local community

While is too early to assess the full extent of the impact that the MATES Mentoring program will have on the long term life outcomes of the program participants, a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program which has been running for over 30 years in Australia and which has similarities to MATES Mentoring has shown a number of important life benefits for program participants when followed up at an average of 37 years.

The study found that for every $1 invested in the program, an average of $18 was returned in the social value. For the most disadvantaged young people that participated in the program the social return value was calculated to be as high as $23 for every $1 invested in the program.

If the average social return value for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program was applied to MATES Mentoring Program, it could be estimated that the $89,100 investment made into the program between 2013 and 2015 would likely return a social value to the Wimmera Southern Mallee Community in the vicinity of $1.6 million dollars over the next twenty years.

Over the 2013 and 2015 period it is estimated that a total of 6,667 volunteer hours were invested by [MATES] Mentors in mentoring and participating in training. Assuming that one hour of each volunteer’s time is valued at the minimum casual award wage including 25% casual loading of $21.61, it can be directly calculated that the total value of volunteer time of $157,169 has been invested into the program by the Wimmera Southern Mallee Community.

In an earlier survey carried out directly by Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN to assess the impact and benefits of the MATES Mentoring Model, the LLEN found that of the students surveyed:

  • 93% agreed or strongly agreed that having a mentor increase their confidence
  • 70% agreed or strongly agreed that having a mentor contributed to their improved behaviour
  • 56% agreed or strongly agreed that because of their mentor they now get along better with their teachers
  • 62% agreed or strongly agreed that because of their mentor, their attitude towards school is better
  • 61% agreed or strongly agreed that because of their mentor they attend school more often

Based on the review and the on-going assessments and surveys, MATES is a model with proven return of investment for social impact.  The Wimmera Southern Mallee Community is supporting and improving outcomes of our young people through mentoring.

To get involved and be part of the team that is having this kind of impact, contact WSMLLEN on (03) 5381 0122, email mates co-ordinator, or visit www.llen.com.au/mates.

Volunteering – The Social Impact for Business

Throughout Australia we are seeing a new brand of social responsibility from business that is using employee volunteer programs to ‘invest’ in community and as the key to attract and retain staff, which then feeds into operational efficiency and profitability.

The Wimmera’s business community is pretty savvy; recognising that business is more than just about the bottom line when you work and live in a close community. You see and hear about sponsorship contributions, ‘meals on wheels’ rosters, and a plethora of ‘great ideas’ being supported.

According to Volunteering Australia:

  • 96% of employees said they felt happier as a result of volunteering
  • 94% of companies believed employee volunteering raised staff morale
  • 66% of employees reported a greater commitment to the company as a result their Volunteer Program.

However, businesses are not charities and the general belief is that community-mindedness has to give way to generating profit at some point.

Given the input of volunteering is worth billions to Australia, overcoming the barriers of time and commitment for staff to volunteer is an instant value-add to our community as well as in-house productivity. (Locally, the volunteer hours invested in the MATES Mentoring program from 2010 – 2016 was estimated to be valued at $157,169.)

Locally, MATES Mentoring presents as an ideal Employee Volunteer Program. WSMLLEN has a list of “Community Champions” using the program and releasing staff during work hours to ‘mentor’ young people. Community Champion 2016 Award Winner’s, Hindmarsh Shire Council, provided flexible work arrangements for 7 staff during the year who all mentored young people through the MATES program.

MATES has been designed as a model which is easy and effective to implement and this is reflected by the high rate of program uptake.

 

For further information on using MATES as an Employee Volunteer Program, or to enquire about becoming a mentor, please contact mates co-ordinator, visit www.llen.com.au/mates,
or call (03) 5381 0122.

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