Mentoring these young people can be challenging. They often have a history of trauma and neglect, but Keamo has demonstrated the touching and kind soul she is and maintained a sense of hope for the young people’s future. She’s got a great sense of humour and laughter has been a key foundation for nurturing a safe home.
Keamo’s connection with the young people she has lived with often continues once they have moved on to living independently. She’ll organise catch-ups with them, showing that the care she has for them is real and ongoing. Keamo believes this has gone a long way to sustaining their growing confidence and wellbeing.
In late 2019 Concern Australia recognised Keamo’s extraordinary commitment to young people with the Corey Lancaster Volunteer of the Year award.
As part of our series profiling our Live-In Mentors, we asked Keamo a few questions about her experiences. Grab a cuppa, kick up your feet and enjoy her story.
What prompted you to become a live-in mentor? How did you find out about the program?
I had heard about Inside Out from a friend and looked it up online. Generally I care about people. I’m always drawn to young people, and just wanted to make a difference. I wanted to get some experience working with young people, and providing emotional support and wellbeing, and I’d like to work with young people professionally in the future.
In this role, you realise the importance of nurture for the young people and having support and feeling like you are wanted and loved. A lot of them feel like they don’t belong.
What sort of support do you provide to the young people?
I talk with them a lot. And it’s about giving them quality time. My time. In this role, you realise the importance of nurture for the young people and having support and feeling like you are wanted and loved. A lot of them feel like they don’t belong. When they achieve something it’s important to recognize it. It’s so simple, but so important.
I talk to them a lot in the evenings – we talk about what they’re going through. Sometimes they reach out to me when they have exhausted everyone else, and they know that I’m there for them.
I also build our connection through activities such as shopping, going out for dinner and going to the movies.
I know that the support I provide is important when I see them cry, or the way they respond when I tell them that I’m there for them. It’s not something they have experienced much before.
They often have a tough exterior, and you watch them let that go and realise that you’re not going to judge them.
How do you create a safe, supportive environment in the home?
I let them know that I will always care about them. We have clear expectations in the house, and talk about them a lot, along with setting clear boundaries.
I do things with them around the house, and we go for drives and other activities together. I work on open communication – I try to inform them when I’ll come home, and make sure I say good night. It’s the little things that make a difference.
I’m always available when I’m in the house, all the time, for them to talk to me. Even if it’s late, they can knock at my door, or send me a text message to see if I’m still up to talk. That’s the time when I get to know them a lot.
I try not to present myself as an all-knowing person, if I’m wrong about something, I always apologise to them, and I also ask them for help when I need it.
I send them regular messages to let them know that I think about them when they’re not in the house, messages that are encouraging, or express gratitude.
What has the pandemic been like?
I had a young person sharing the house with me at the beginning of the lockdown, and then he was able to move to his own place. It was hard for him not having the freedom he usually would have. You could see how isolated he felt, and it was also how I felt.
It’s just been me in the house for the past couple of months. In some ways it has been good to have a bit of a break, but I miss him a lot!
How did you feel about getting the Volunteer of the Year award?
It was a big surprise. When I started this volunteer role, I knew that I wanted to treat the young people like I treat my family members, like anyone needs to be treated, so I don’t feel like I did anything special.
You need to care about people, in action, not just words. If you have expectations of the young people that are too high it will be hard. You need to be accepting and nurturing, and very patient. I can’t stress that enough. And forgiving.
What does it take to be a volunteer Live-In Mentor?
You have to be committed, and do it if you want to be there for someone.
It can be exhausting. You need to care about people, in action, not just words.
If you have expectations of the young people that are too high it will be hard. You need to be accepting and nurturing, and very patient. I can’t stress that enough. And forgiving.
How do you explain to your friends what you’re doing?
I say that it’s trying to prepare the young people to become adults, supporting them, teaching things as much as you can, and being there for them.
My friends understand because I’ve been doing it for so long, they get it now.
How do you sustain yourself?
I make a conscious effort to take time out for myself, whether it’s going to a friend’s house, or having a night away from the house. I don’t feel stuck – I know that Concern Australia will get someone in to fill in for me if I need to have some time.
I also know that I can tell the young people if I’m not able to hang out today, and ask them if we can do that tomorrow.
We use humour a lot in the house too.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a Live-In Mentor?
Make sure you are prepared in some ways to take on someone else’s emotions, someone who is broken a lot of the time. It’s not about you.
That’s why it’s also important to take time out when you need to.
What are some of the biggest challenges?
Learning that each of the young people is different, and when to back away. Sometimes in a desire to show support you can almost smother them. You have to learn how to let them come to you.
One time when a young person was struggling, I just stood where he could see me to let him know I was there. Then when he was ready he came and spoke to me, and we had a helpful conversation.
What are some of your best memories/experiences of the mentor role?
The times that they are really happy, or they call the house their home and you can see that they mean it. When you can tell that they really enjoy being there, like when they’re in a good place and you’re bouncing around in the kitchen just talking and laughing and making fun of each other.
At one point, one of the young people came back for a visit, and was reflecting on some of the advice I’d given them. It showed that they do listen. They are lovely young people – they make me want to cry.
When they first meet you, they don’t trust you, they don’t want to open up. Then there’s a slow progression, and then there comes a point when they’ll message and ask when I’m coming home. You know when it shifts. Those things are really special and important.