Edward Chirenda has been a volunteer Live-In Mentor with Concern Australia for more than five years, showing great commitment to the wellbeing of multiple vulnerable young people during this time.

Volunteer Live-In Mentors are the backbone of our Inside Out program. They share houses with young people aged 16-18 years who are in the out-of-home care system, helping build a safe sense of home in which young people can learn to tackle life independently as they approach adulthood.

Edward (known affectionately as Edy) initially migrated to Australia from Zimbabwe to study, and then stayed to pursue a career in financial planning.

Find out about Edy’s experience of being a Live-In Mentor below. You can also hear from another Live-In Mentor, April, in this story.

Michelle Crawford and her mum

 

What prompted you to become a live-in mentor?

I wanted to empower other people, especially youth. My friend told me of this program where he was mentoring youth, and he put me in touch.


What was the application process like?

It involved things like police checks and a working with children check, but a lot of it went into finding out if you are in a healthy place to be mentoring and meet all legal requirements. They really took time to know about myself – my passions, my background, my upbringing, how I grew up and why I wanted to join the program.


How many different young people have you mentored over your time with Inside Out?

At least eight young people, probably more.


What has the experience been like so far?

It really provides an opportunity to empower youth. A lot of these young people don’t have anyone to look up to. You can play a part in building someone’s life. Sometimes it’s not necessarily what you say to them, but your effort in ensuring that you are being a role model.

I have lived with a mixture of young people from different cultural backgrounds, mostly male. They all have different stories.

How the mentors act around the young people is very important, including watching how we talk and behave, working to present a unified front, and creating a nurturing culture. Sometimes the smallest things matter, such as keeping a clean home, so that the young people know that it’s a comfortable, safe place.

A lot of these young people don’t have anyone to look up to. You can play a part in building someone’s life. Sometimes it’s not necessarily what you say to them, but your effort in ensuring that you are being a role model.


How do you sustain yourself?

I think you need to be mindful of yourself when you’re around the young people. Sometimes they act and behave in ways that are not pleasing, and how you respond is very important.

It’s about showing in your interaction that you care, being mindful of how you are feeling, so that when you are interacting, it comes from a place of trying to build someone up.

Being aware of your own emotional state is very important, and if there are any issues, ensuring you are talking about them with the volunteer support worker that is there for the Mentors.


Can you share a significant experience you’ve had with a young person?

One of the biggest things that you discover is that young people act in a certain way because of their backgrounds, what they’ve gone through and experienced – very rarely do they mean harm.

We had one young man who was not the best behaved. He would have periods where he was difficult, gave us a hard time in the house, and could be quite aggressive.

But he was just a young person having a very difficult time. We looked past the behaviour and difficulties, and really did our best to support him.

At one very low point, he broke down and started crying, explaining why he was having such a hard time. Being there for him at that troubled moment, listening, providing support and comfort regardless of recent behaviour, it felt like there was nothing else more important that I could be doing with my time.

He had no one else to provide support and get around him in that time. They need people who genuinely wish to lift them up and we do the best we can.

It’s my passion to be in that privileged role, where I endeavour to impact these young lives to the best of my ability. Each day as often as I can I am encouraging, constantly whispering encouragement into their ear and influencing through actions.

Being there for him at that troubled moment, listening, providing support and comfort regardless of recent behaviour, it felt like there was nothing else more important that I could be doing with my time.


How does the household work together?

We go shopping together on the weekends. That’s something I enjoy. Shopping for us is not a chore – it’s a fun activity. As mentors, we need to earn trust, and we earn that trust through the activities that we do. We are ensuring that everything is in order for them. When they see us, they see order and structure. They know the bins are going to go out at a certain date, they know that the house is going to be kept clean. We set the example.


How many young people are sharing the house with you now?

We have one young person – he’s amazing. And there are another two Live-In Mentors.


What has the experience during the pandemic been like? How have you and the young people coped?

It is going to be different for each house. For us, there are no issues at all. The young man, he is respectful, doesn’t play his music too loud, and understands that we work during the day.

I have my own room where I can do my own work. It was a challenge working from home at first, but then I was able to develop a rhythm.

We all ensure that we are keeping safe. We have masks and sanitiser, we are keeping things clean, have no friends coming over, and he knows that he can’t have friends coming over.

The young man likes cooking for us, and we enjoy his cooking. We have a table-tennis table, and he loves to play. He’s beaten me in a lot of games, although I admit I sometimes do let him win. Haha!

I encourage the young man to do things that put his mind at ease and take care of his wellbeing while we are in the pandemic, such as going for walks and eating well.


What has the support from Concern Australia been like during the pandemic?

The support is amazing. They have been bringing us masks, sanitiser, anything that we require, even toilet paper. Anything that we need in the house, they provide, and if anything breaks down, they get someone to come and fix it.

We have access to the Employee Assistance Program, so if anyone is having a tough time from the lockdown, we can connect with someone to talk it through. My Concern Australia support worker Andrew Parker is also always available for a chat, he is very supportive. It’s really amazing to have my own mentor that can help me to navigate tricky situations. Training is provided periodically so we can grow and develop as mentors.


What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a live-in mentor with Concern Australia?

It really provides you with an opportunity to impact someone’s life!

The last time we went to the supermarket, the young person I share the home with asked for a second receipt for his own purchase. I asked about it, and he said he wants to keep track of his own spending so he can save money. Seeing such behaviour really puts me in a position where I can reinforce good behaviours. All Mentors have something valuable that they can add to young people’s lives.

For me it’s been over five years in this program and my passion only continues to grow. 

Find out more about the Inside Out program and the difference you
could make for a young person as a volunteer live-in mentor.