The Island is a local charity created to support the young people of York. Having established itself five years ago, The Island provides a unique one-to-one mentoring service for young people around the city. This service is aimed at improving the long-term quality of life for these children. Although Network 2, the council run organisation, also provides a mentoring system, The Island’s mentors work alongside younger children between the vulnerable ages of 8 – 13 years. The organisation was created as a response to a specific need for mentoring for this age group in York.
The children that the charity work with are often from poorer backgrounds, with over 50% coming from the most deprived areas around York. The service is also aimed at children facing difficulties in school, such as problems with peers, behaviour, suffering from exclusion, bullying, health problems, or issues in their family lives.
By helping children facing these issues, this in turn helps to tackle the long-term knock on effects that such issues have, such as children performing badly at school, or young people becoming involved in crime, for example. Mentors also work alongside children after specific traumatic events, such as bereavement.
Young people are referred to The Island via parents, schools, the police, and the NSPCC, amongst others. These children are then assessed by The Island to evaluate their specific needs, referring them onto other organisations if their services aren’t suitable for the individual, ensuring that no child is neglected. They are then assessed via questionnaires to match a child with a mentor based on interests, specific needs, geography, and personalities, tailoring the partnership for mentee and mentor.
Once signed up to the programme, mentors receive training, support and supervision. Mentors generally make a commitment to a child for a year, after a preliminary meeting with the mentee, and their parents or carers. Mentors volunteer to do activities with their young person for a couple of hours once a week. This may involve going out for something to eat, going to the cinema, taking part in a sport, or going bowling, for example, picking up and dropping off the child at their home.
For every one girl, three boys are referred to The Island. However, The Island currently has mainly female volunteers, with approximately five women volunteering for every one man. Attracting more male volunteers is so important for the young people involved as many young males often require, or respond most positively to a male mentor, as many come from backgrounds where a father figure is absent. The Island currently has 29 active mentors and 11 waiting to be matched to a young person and a further 12 waiting to be trained.
Mentors are usually expected to commit to mentoring a young person for 12 months. This long-term commitment allows for a more beneficial relationship to be built with a child, allowing time for the child and the mentor to gain as much from the relationship as possible. Louise, a current mentor with The Island found that it took around six months for her current mentee to fully start to open up and trust her. Consistency also avoids causing any disruption to a potentially already vulnerable child. However, depending on the needs of a child, shorter
, or longer commitments may also be suitable.
The mentoring programme has an influential and positive impact upon many young people, encouraging confidence and happiness, giving the young people the opportunity to gain skills, and time to explore and discuss their aspirations. It also provides the opportunity for young people to gain the time and attention they may be lacking, and are encouraged to pursue positive pathways. This often results in increased attendance at school, steers them away from drugs and crime, encourages social and emotional development, and builds up trust and communication.
Furthermore, the mentor themselves has the opportunity to inspire the child. One mentor said of her mentee, “[He is] more confident in himself, and what he enjoys, and just acting like himself, not worried that anyone is going to say anything to him. This has had a knock-on effect with his school mates as well, although I know he still gets quite a lot of grief, but I think he’s learning to control what he says and just judge the crowd a bit more”.
Mentors also stand to gain a lot from volunteering just a few hours of their week over 12 months. Those that have mentored describe the feeling of achievement and fulfilment such a rewarding, even if at times challenging, experience can be.
Mentor, Wendy Wilson, said of her experience, “I feel this [Mentoring] is the best thing that I have ever done, making a difference to a child’s life, and knowing that I have been part of that – giving the child space, freedom and a chance to just be themselves.”
Mentors are reimbursed for the activities they and the young person do. Local businesses also provide support, providing discounts or free entry. For example, York City Football Club are sponsoring the charity this season, which includes providing free tickets to matches, and St. Peters school in Bootham provides the charity with the materials and venue to carry out cooking classes and hosts their Christmas party each year.
If you want to get involved with The Island as a mentor, improve a young person’s life and undertake what is an incredibly rewarding experience, or if you are a local business willing to support the charity with discounts, free entry, or free tickets so that mentors and the young people they support can get even more from this scheme, then please use the pledge button on the right hand side of this article to find out more.