Mentoring young people is not always easy but there’s something awesome about working with a young person and then meeting them seven years later, and they come up to you and say, ‘remember me?’ Seeing kids you worked with before and having them come up to you like that and tell you how different life is for them now … it’s amazing to think you had something to do with that.
Adam has had a few roles since he joined the staff at Visionwest but very one has had to do with young people.
I started at the Education and Training Centre working in the Alternative Education programme. Now I work with young people who have put themselves the other side of the law … kids who are in trouble with police.
They are referred to us, we put together a plan for them and I help them complete that plan. The plan could be that they do community work. In that case, I help encourage and motivate them to do that work. For a lot of them, it will be working around Visionwest, like in the Pātaka Kai or somewhere like that. For others, the plan might be attending school, so I’ll make sure they get there and stay focused. Sometimes that even means picking them up in the morning and physically dropping them off. For some kids, it’s about helping them transition into other training programmes or courses.
I’m helping and journeying alongside these young people, basically opening the doors that need opened in order for them to further their lives. Whatever it takes to help them get their lives back on track, I’m there to do it.
Mentoring shaped by the past
Adam was born in Tonga and moved to South Auckland as a child. He admits that, as a youngster, he wasn’t always the best behaved kid on his block, but that changed as he grew older and when he made a decision to follow the Christian faith.
He says it’s his past experiences that caused him to gravitate towards being a youth worker. In his role as a Visionwest Youth Mentor, Adam feels he relates to the young people and can inject something positive into their lives as he seeks to steer them along the right path.
Mentoring is about sharing something of myself so that the young people can see there is another way to live life than the way they’ve been doing it. Every young person who comes to Visionwest is different, but most have one thing in common; they are a bit nervous about what is going to happen and how they will be treated but, once you interact with them and share kai together, that changes.
Adam admits that the most challenging aspect to his role is the things he can’t change. That is often the family and lifestyle of the youth he’s mentoring. He explains that, while he can work all day with a young person and give them the attention they need, at the end of each day they have to return home and are often negatively affected by what’s happening at there.
I know that some of the kids are abused. Others are expected to do things that are unlawful or immoral. What I try to do is build resilience in them. I do that by finding out what they are good at and opening a door to that. For instance, it might be that they are good at sport, so I’ll open the door for the particular sport which helps them bounce back from getting into things they shouldn’t really be doing.
Conversely, the most rewarding thing for Adam is seeing a young person’s life change.
I’ve seen some huge changes and I’ve seen some changes that seem very small, both can be life changing. I remember one young fella who I helped open a bank account. That may seem like such a small thing but, for this kid, it was incredible. He just couldn’t believe he had a real bank account with actual money saved in it.
One of Adam’s aims as a mentor is to encourage the young people towards making significant lifestyle or character changes and instil in them a belief that they can make a difference in their community or whānau. That can be something as simple as teaching politeness or empathy to a young person.
Even the most simple things can be so rewarding and encouraging. Like when a young person comes up to me and tells me how different life is for them and I think, ‘I had something to do with that – I helped them along that part of their life’s journey.’
One kid I hadn’t seen for a while came up to me all excited with the news that he was now a builder. I couldn’t believe it. Here’s a guy who used to spend his time tagging property and running away and causing trouble. Now, if I have something around home that needs a builder, I phone that guy.
90% of the young people Adam works with live with single parents or grandparents. He recognises that what each one is looking for is attention and love from their whānau. He also notes that some are trapped in a lifestyle that is difficult to escape from because actions and character traits are ingrained from when they were a child.
Mentoring to change the future
The thing I try to always remember is that it’s not my job to fix lives. My job is to guide young people so they can address their own challenges and issues. I do that by finding a solution to their challenges and giving them the tools to overcome them.
There is no doubt, Adam has helped many young people change the trajectory of their lives and put them on a positive course. It’s something he is proud of, but incredibly humble also. He says, all he does is give young people positive options for their lives and then encourage them to take those options.
That sounds easy when it’s put like that, but Adam devotes many selfless hours to his mentoring. The young people can tell, and it works – lives are turned around.
Read about Kane, one of the young people Adam has mentored.
Find out more about Visionwest Youth Solutions