Vicki Condon, Founder and CEO of Raise Foundation
"Thank you for being interested in the Raise story and for including us in this extraordinary group of people.
We know that too many of our young Australians are in crisis. They are keeping their struggles held tightly within themselves and not speaking out. Those struggles are then leaking out of our young people in other ways - suicide is the leading cause of death amongst 14-25 year olds in Australia; 23% of 12-17 year olds consume alcohol every week and 1/4 students in a secondary school classroom uses cannabis; 1 in 5 Australian kids will be victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18; Australia has the fourth highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the western world; 1in 4 young Australians live with a mental illness but only 13% males and 31% females aged 16 to 24 will ask for professional help. Through our work at Raise, we are seeing many additional common responses to pressure arising particularly for our young girls, including eating disorders and self harm.
At Raise, we know a solution that works is providing young people who are struggling with someone neutral to talk to when they need help, someone who is outside of their usual group of adults in their families and communities, someone who is a positive role model, who is willing to really listen and help to identify and achieve new goals.
We know it takes a village to raise a child and we have been overwhelmed by the generous and compassionate support from everyone who has joined our village. Since our inception five years ago, Raise has grown to a group of 14 qualified Counsellors in our staff team across NSW, VIC, and now QLD. We have trained 480 volunteers from the community in partnership with the Northern Sydney Institute, a part of Tafe, and we are training 200 new mentors for this year right at this very moment to become accredited youth mentors, so we are poised to make our 1000th mentoring match in the next month. We have male and female mentors who work with male and female mentees in our programs, but a huge majority of our volunteers are women, ordinary Australian women doing extraordinary things.
The theme for International Women's Day this year is "inspiring change". So, I've spent the last week doing some very professional, academic research (via facebook!) asking the girls in our programs what inspires them to make change in their lives. I can summarise their thoughts into three themes, it seems there can be three triggers.
Firstly, some say it is devastation. We experience something pivotal, or we eventually arrive at rock bottom. We come to believe that there is nowhere to go from here and we must make change for pure survival.
Secondly, some say it is opportunity. We are presented with an option that is a possibility, that sparks potential and triggers curiosity. We start to consider and we start to wonder.
Thirdly, some say it is courage. We discover a belief that we can really make change a reality. We find bravery, a power and strength to take the first step and commence the journey.
Every day, our team witnesses new inspirations of change between our mentors and mentees. Our mentees often come to us experiencing devastation, and our inspiring mentors are the ones who help them find their opportunities and help them develop the courage they need to make a change.
I am sure that every one of you in this room today has experienced a mentor's impact whether it be formally or informally. You can remember someone who has been an impacting part of your life, helped explain devastation, highlighted opportunity, instilled courage in you. Someone that you have admired and looked up to, and who has walked alongside you in your journey. You can see their faces, you know their names. The impact of a neutral positive role model can overcome fear and spark growth, give you the courage to make change.
I’d like to tell you about one of the mentoring matches in our Bump program which is for young mums who are pregnant or parenting as these are ordinary Australian girls and women achieving extraordinary things together. The way Bump works is that a volunteer is trained through TAFE in youth mentoring, then they are matched with a teenage mum who they meet weekly one-on-one and then attend monthly workshops together with all the other young mums and their mentors. Bump graduates receive a Certificate I from NSI as part of the program, and this is very exciting for them as many of the girls haven’t completed high school.
With me today, and accepting this award on behalf of all our mentors and all our mentees are Carly and Jess.
Carly came to us as a volunteer mentor several years ago, she was studying for her Degree in Social Work at Sydney Uni and did her placement hours with us. She was a remarkable mentor and ended up becoming one of our staff team as a Program Counsellor, and she has recently taken on a case management role with FaCS. Prior to all of this, she was a teenage mum of three sons and since we have known her she has become a single mum of three sons. A woman of strength, courage and determination, an inspiring role model.
Jess fell pregnant during her HSC year – and she still graduated! She then went on to work with her mentor at Bump to complete a Cert I with us, followed by doing our advanced Bump program which is a Cert II in Skills for Work and Training and completed a small business management project which saw her raise the capital needed to produce a short film about teenage motherhood in Australia. She is now a legal clerk, and recently became engaged. Another woman of strength, courage and determination, also an inspiring role model for us, and for her children.
The coming together of two generations of women is always remarkable in the Bump program. It results in a powerful energy. We could say that girls compete with each other, but women empower each other, and that is exactly what we see at Bump. Experienced women empowering young women to be the best they can be. It is an exchange of experience and an acceptance of choice. Carly and Jess are indicative of what makes an inspiring match, and they are a living example of the saying we teach the girls at Bump which is that their destination is just the same as other women, it’s just that their journey is different.
My wish for each of you is that you can either discover a mentor for yourself, or become a mentor for someone else.
The gift of discovering a mentor is extraordinary and learning to trust them is a wonderful journey. The girls in our programs, and the boys, have flourished as a result of knowing their mentor. They tell us that it has given them someone to talk to in tough times, helped them build positive relationships, advanced their coping strategies, increased their confidence, helped them identify and achieve new goals and re-engaged them with education and employment.
The gift of becoming a mentor is also extraordinary. Our volunteers tell us that they learn as much from their Mentee as their Mentee learns from them, and they truly value the opportunity to give back to their community. We regularly see across all of our programs that from devastation, our mentors and mentees can identify opportunities together, and then instil the courage needed to inspire change.
So, I wish you the opportunity and the courage to inspire change in your own lives, and in the lives around you, and I thank you for being interested in the Raise story. We welcome each of you into our village and we thank you for being like silent mentors to the young people in our programs just by hearing about their journey today, and offering them this award of encouragement to keep going."