An inside look at what it's like being a Ladder mentor

As part of Youth Mentoring Week (23 - 29 October), we'll be sharing stories from our mentors and hear what it's like from a young person's perspective.

We sat down with Andrew, a Ladder mentor and Adelaide FC employee, to find out what it's really like being a mentor.

How long have you been involved with Ladder?

Possibly since February or March this year. It’s hard to remember.

What made you first get involved with Ladder?

I had a conversation with a former Ladder mentor at work. I wanted to get involved with volunteering and he suggested mentoring. I was young, single and had time to offer, and really wanted to do something with the local community. I got in touch with the program manager for Ladder and he got me started with Amin.

Why is youth homelessness the issue you wanted to address?

I had some knowledge of Ladder, and had been down to St Vincent St before when it first opened. It was really cool to see how Ladder had developed over the years. I feel pretty passionate about the way homeless people are viewed in our society, as if they chose to be homeless, and wanted to do something to help break those stereotypes and that cycle.

What does being a Ladder mentor involve?

Initially, I thought it would involve being like a teacher, sharing life lessons every time we met up. In reality, it involves spending time with them and getting to know who they are. It’s not complicated. It’s just about developing a connection, being there to call on if they need you – it’s just like any friendship.

What kind of activities do you and your mentee do together?

At the moment, we do a lot of driving as Amin’s trying to get his license. We also do lots of coffees, lunches and walks and a bit of skateboarding. We have plans to go try different food places that we want to share with each other, but haven’t quite managed it yet.

What skills do you need to be a mentor?

Being able to form a friendship, to listen and be open to new kinds of friends and activities. In this way, you’ll be able to help them develop as a person, without it being a teacher kind of role.

What are the best bits about being a mentor?

• I’ve loved learning things from Amin (his passions & interests).
• I get a massive thrill out of his improvement in driving. I really like seeing his achievements.
• Just hanging out and having fun are the main best bits!

What changes have you seen in your mentee/ young person since you began mentoring them?

Amin was already pretty focused but just seeing him continuing on his path over time.
Our relationship has changed quite a bit in terms of both opening up and genuinely caring about each other. As a result of any friendship, your interpersonal skills develop. Amin has a genuine interest in my life and it’s the same for me, which is just another demonstration of where our friendship is at.

What does the young person get out of having a mentor?

Someone consistent and reliable in his life who he can rely on to support him if he ever needed it.
Someone different in his life, who he can learn about and develop a friendship with, expanding his networks, connections and experiences.

What’s most challenging about being a mentor?

Initially, it was the pressure you feel about your role – have to be educating them or doing ‘something’ for them.
While it’s challenging, it’s also the best bit about mentoring – getting to know someone you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet before this. I’m generally not someone who meets new people easily, but this was a lot easier than I thought as it’s just a friendship at the end of the day.

What has being a mentor taught you about yourself?

It’s given me the confidence to know that I can form friendships with people from all walks of life. This relates to my job also, in that I need to engage with a lot of different people and know now that I can do this reasonably well. Potentially in the past I’ve not given myself enough credit for this skill.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about young people who have experienced homelessness?

That they’re somehow different from everyone else.

Generally speaking, there seems to be a view that people are homeless because they’ve done it to themselves. The reality is that it can easily happen to anyone and there are lots of circumstances that have led to someone being in this desperate situation.

There’s no way anyone would see Amin in this way, as he doesn’t fit the stereotype in people’s minds. Getting to know a young person at Ladder means you get a better sense of what young people go through generally, to end up couch surfing, staying with friends or at risk of homelessness.

What’s your favourite memory or story about your time with your mentee?

Firstly, the car breakdown story Amin shared. We just had fun goofing around on the side of the road, going to get coffees and hanging out.
Also, the first time Amin drove a manual WITHOUT STALLING! I couldn’t believe it – he was so good straight away!
Spending a couple of catch ups in the Kmart carpark learning to skate board, with Amin as my patient teacher. It’s so not something I ever saw myself doing but I really enjoyed it.

Our first catch up was also pretty special. We went for a walk around the Port and I thought Amin wouldn’t want to share his story with me but he was really open straight away.

What would you say to people who are thinking about getting involved with Ladder?

You’ll get more out of it that you realise. I am amazed at how much I get out of having a friendship with Amin. I am very lucky, as he’s an awesome guy and it’s not always that easy to click straight away. I’ve found it really personally rewarding.

Read more

What does Andrew's mentee think about the relationship? Read Amin's story here. *

*To find out more about Ladder's mentoring program, click here