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20 mentors have signed up for next year and SA-YES are hoping to recruit another 25.
LEAVING home is a difficult enough time for young people, but imagine what it would be like if you had no safety net to fall back on if things were to go wrong.
This is the reality for thousands of youths in children’s homes across South Africa when they turn 18, their government funding stops, and they are forced to make it on their own.
Often placed in homes for their own safety, these youngsters are generally ill-equipped for independent living. Many of them end up on the streets or in prison, says Michelle Potter, co-founder of SA-YES (South African Youth Education for Sustainability).
But there is hope for them, thanks to the Transition to Independent Living Programme, which matches each young person with their very own mentor. In addition to being a positive role model, mentors offer friendship and guidance and the opportunity to trust again.
Potter first visited South Africa from England in 2005, at the age of 38. She volunteered as a soccer coach for young men in Khayelitsha, and fell in love with the place and its people.
“I was 29 before I first kicked a ball!” she laughs, but explains she later trained to be a coach.
It was during a football trip to London she had organised for 16 youngsters that she became aware of their plight one of the youths revealed to her his fears of leaving the home at the age of 18. At the time she was studying to be a teacher in London, but gave everything up to move to SA in 2008. She started SA-YES with a neighbour she had in Notting Hill none other than “X-Files” actress Gillian Anderson.
“I saw her picture in a newspaper one day,” Potter says, explaining that before this she’d had no idea she was living next to the star.
The two went on to become good friends. Potter says Anderson walked with her every step of the way, helping to raise funds for the organisation and putting her in touch with friends in SA.
These days, SA-YES works in partnerships with several homes in Cape Town, including Beth Uriel, Marsh Memorial, Heatherdale and Girls’ and Boys’ Town. And now, you have an opportunity to make a difference: SA-YES is looking for 40 mentors to be friends with 40 youths next year developing again on the programme’s initial grouping of 15. Each youngster is matched with a volunteer mentor for one year, and both parties must be equally committed to the programme. Mentors must commit to at least one hour a week.
“The mentors just blow me away,” says Potter, who still finds it incredible that busy people with their own families give so generously of their time.
Mentors, who are carefully screened by YES-SA, must be over 26, and it is crucial that they are empathetic and able to listen.
There is also a strict policy against giving gifts. “We keep it very real,” Potter elaborates. “Being a mentor is not about treating it is about being a friend.”
Two presentations about what being a mentor involves will be given on Tuesday 13 september and Monday 19 September, both at 18:15 at the Marsh Memorial children’s home in Rondebosch.
Training for mentors starts in October. If you’re interested in finding out more, contact Michelle on (021)788-3807 or email email@example.com. Alternatively, visit sa-yes.com.