Youngest mentor's sage advice
By Paul O'Rourke
At 23, Ben James is Devonport Chaplaincy’s youngest volunteer mentor, but also among its longest serving.
The part-time pastor, student and IT consultant is now in his fourth year of being mentor to Luke Cooper, who is in Year eight at Latrobe High School. They came together, primarily to help Luke in the transition from primary school to high school. They have been meeting weekly ever since.
Ben is a former student of both Latrobe Primary School and high school. His mum started a breakfast program on behalf of the Red Cross when he was in Year three.
“I remember having to get up early and go in there and make toast,” he said.
“It was terrible.”
He has a long history of serving with chaplaincy and Loaves and Fishes Tasmania.
However, he is cautious about generally recommending people his own age take on mentoring due to study, work and family commitments leading them out of the local area.
He says mentors need to be able to turn up weekly for three to five years to give and get the most from the relationship with a student, many of whom struggle with anxiety.
“Being patient and consistent are the most important qualities of being a good mentor,” he said.
“You have to be prepared to keep on showing up even when you feel you are not making any difference.
“You are not transforming someone’s life overnight. You are turning up and hanging out. Slowly, over a long period of time, you start to see change and growth.”
Ben still recalls being pelted with pillows when he first met Luke, who barely spoke, was extremely self conscious and couldn’t sit still. Undeterred, Ben settled in for the long haul.
Cleaning up after the frenetic activity of breakfast club, where students much on toasties and slurp Milo, there is an obvious trust and ease between Ben and Luke.
They play chess or video games. Mentoring isn’t counselling or psychotherapy; it’s an honest, calm relationship where friends do life.
“Luke has definitely matured and is showing substantially more skills in a variety of areas as a result of mentoring,” Ben said.
“I’ve also grown. Hopefully, I’m wiser and more patient as a result of spending time with Luke.”
Chaplain Barrie Cole said there were many students at Latrobe who would benefit from a mentor.
“I could easily place five or six students with mentors,” he said.
“Most schools have waiting lists of half a dozen kids who need mentors.”
Like Ben, Barrie agrees that the best fruit from a mentoring relationship is reaped after many years.
Ben’s fiancee Bronte has expressed interest in becoming a mentor.
The couple will marry in January.