Imagine you’re the new girl in town on your first day of high school. After travelling around Australia for a year, you’re feeling positive about settling in one place and making friends.
Imagine your delight when the first girl you meet invites you to sit with her friends at recess.
Imagine that by lunchtime, your parents’ occupation (both new teachers at the only high school in town!) is seen as a reason to exclude you.
Imagine you become a bullying target. The exclusion and name calling becomes so common place that you begin to believe the words spoken about you.
Imagine you eventually make other friends, but you continue to doubt whether you truly belong. Perhaps, you wonder, they’re just feeling sorry for you.
Imagine you measure your self-worth on how much attention your latest crush pays you, rather than being confident to simply be yourself.
Imagine you find yourself agreeing with the opinions of others, or simply staying silent, rather than express what you truly believe, for fear of further rejection.
* * *
This story could be any number of young people I’ve worked with over the past 25 years, but it’s actually part of my own story. Perhaps it describes part of your story, too.
Fortunately, when I was at my most insecure, I met some wonderful people whose acceptance and encouragement changed my life.
Somewhere to Belong
As a teenager, I spent most of my year in a remote mining town, but my summer holidays were spent at our family’s beach shack in a holiday town north of Perth. For ten days over the Christmas break, a group of volunteers from Scripture Union ran a holiday club, which included singing, storytelling and sandcastle competitions on the beach each morning, followed by other events in the caravan park during the late afternoon and evening.
For those few days each year, I felt I belonged somewhere. I was welcomed and included – as myself, with all my doubts and insecurities and questions. Not only that, but several leaders (hello Diane, Lisa, Tom and James if you happen to be reading this), wrote to me. And I wrote back. Not often, and nothing particularly deep, but enough to make feel as though I mattered.
A few years later, I ended up living in Perth as a uni student, and found myself responding to a callout for volunteer leaders at a local youth group. I was fresh out of school – naïve and inexperienced – but with a willingness to give it a go.
Not long after, I met Gavin Wood. Gavin was an older, far more experienced youth worker, and he saw a potential in me I hadn’t yet recognised in myself. He invited me to lead a teen holiday camp with him. Over the next few years, he walked beside me, meeting with me, offering guidance and inviting me into various leadership roles. You could say that Gavin is largely responsible for my ongoing work with kids and young people.
One of my roles was as a youth officer at a local writing centre. I helped organise a few holiday programs with visiting authors, which evolved into a regular Saturday morning young writers’ group, which I facilitated for a few years. A couple of years ago, (about 15 years after the group stopped meeting), I subscribed to the magazine, Dumbo Feather. I was about to toss the envelope out when a postcard slipped onto the floor:
“You probably don’t remember me, but I used to take writing classes,” the card began. “I remember those weekends being the highlight of those years. Thanks for giving nerds like me a safe space of encouragement … Tegan.”
Turns out Tegan had been working a day week at the magazine and recognised my name on the subscriber list. It’s not often you discover you’ve impacted someone’s life – in fact, you can go through your whole life totally unaware of any difference you’ve made to the people around you. Needless to say, I was blown away – and very grateful.
While I had hoped to encourage Tegan and others to pursue their passion for writing, I hadn’t consciously set out to create a safe space, somewhere to belong. But, in retrospect, perhaps it is the underlying reason I ran those classes. To pay forward what those holiday club leaders had offered me all those years ago.
It’s certainly why I jump at the chance to run writing workshops for young people today, and why I love my work with 12 Buckets.
Paying it Forward
12 Buckets is a not-for-profit organisation based in Perth’s northern suburbs, which offers one-to-one mentoring to students who need someone to walk alongside them – for all sorts of reasons.
They might not be the ones winning awards, although sometimes they do. Some of them are likely to fall through the cracks once they leave the familiarity of primary school. And sometimes, they receive attention for all the wrong reasons. But you know what? They’re all just kids, filled with potential and passion, and who can and do flourish when paired up with a mentor who’ll help them discover that potential, and who’ll believe in them even when they’re finding it difficult to believe in themselves. Just as Gavin Wood did for me.
I can’t imagine giving up walking alongside the young girl I mentor each Tuesday. Nor the students who’ve headed off to high school, and choose to stay connected through our Big Buckets program.
But right now, saying goodbye is a real possibility. 12 Buckets has been running its one-to-one program for nine years now without any government funding. And without the generosity of the wider community, it’s now in danger of closing its doors.
You Can Change a Child’s Life
I don’t usually ask for anything from my readers, but right now, if you can spare the cost of a few coffees, please donate to the 12 Buckets crowdfunding campaign. It’s not about a few people donating large figures (although that’s also great), but lots of people donating small amounts.
And if you have no money, but have time, you could always volunteer to mentor one child for one hour a week – you might just find your own life is changed in the process.
Who changed your life? Will you help change a life?
PS. If you’d like to know more about the impact of a program like 12 Buckets (on both students and mentors), check out the short video below.