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Mentor scheme brings joy, hope into young lives

It’s a team effort at Pillars: From left are Kingston Hancy, Aroha Newby, Jarhley Angi, Sarah Ward, Orla Angi, Juliann Purea-Desai, Sharn Te Whiu, Amethyst Edwards, Nathan Ah Siu and Corrina Thompson.

Children and teens with an absent parent in prison are being helped to become happy and be excited about their future, thanks to a mentoring scheme at the charity named Pillars.

Many of the mentoring combinations become such good friends that they stay matched for well beyond the minimum one-year commitment the programme expects, says Corrina Thompson, Pillars’ senior mentoring co-ordinator/whānau kai-āwhina.

“We have had matches who have ended up attending each other’s weddings, others who have attended the same university as their mentor, and others who have become apprentices at their mentor’s trade business.

“We have matches where transformation occurs in complete shifts in sense of self-worth, goal setting and confidence. All mentoring matches where a young person becomes happier and excited about their future are a success in our eyes,” says Corrina.

Kids often unsure of new adults

When children and young people first come on to the mentoring programme, they often are somewhat unsure of new adults, Corrina says.

They may have been traumatised by their past experiences, and some have spent years living in survival mode. Many are struggling at school and struggling with their sense of self-esteem.


“Once a child is carefully matched with their own special mentor, we are told time and time again from parents and caregivers about the transformation that occurs.

“We hear families watching their child who has been quiet, withdrawn, or angry and hurting, become happy and excited about their future; such is the positive influence of feeling empowered, listened to, and spending time expanding their ideas and horizons.”

Many of the children don’t have the opportunity to do things other kids take for granted, like going to the beach or exploring new parts of the city. They get to do these things with their mentor.

But there are challenges for both children and mentors.

The challenges are often around embracing the unknown – for both the mentor and mentee and their whānau.

“It’s comforting to know that Pillars provides full training and ongoing support, including social work support for the child’s whānau where needed.

“It is also important to note that all children and whānau join with Pillars voluntarily (as do the mentors) so everyone who is involved really wants to be and Pillars is there to support and facilitate every mentoring match,” says Corrina.

Matches strong a decade on

Pillars was founded 30 years ago in Christchurch. The national charity supports children of prisoners and mentoring, begun in Auckland about 10 years ago, is among its programmes. Some of the alumni matches are still going strong after a decade, says Corrina.

Spending time together is the primary focus.

“There is a saying that children spell love as T-I-M-E. The time mentors and mentees spend together is where they build their trusting rapport, it’s where they laugh, and ultimately, through having fun with an ‘ask-able adult’, it’s where life-changing transformation occurs when goals and horizons are expanded,” Corrina says.

There is a saying that children spell love as T-I-M-E.

Life-enhancing for parents

Having a mentor for their child can also enhance the life of their parents.

“All our Pillars families have chosen to join the programme voluntarily, which is a humbling privilege to be invited into their lives. Many Pillars parents have found themselves facing stigma and adversity though they have committed no crime.

“In this way they serve an invisible sentence alongside their whānau in prison. Watching their child enjoy new experiences is very empowering and uplifting for many of our whanau,” Corrina says.

So who could be a good mentor and how does Pillars find them?

Anyone with a non-judgemental, fun-loving and adventure-seeking mindset can be a great mentor,” says Corrina.


“We have mentors from all walks of life though, typically speaking, people who love the outdoors, sports, arts and crafts, music, technology, or any else that young people enjoy, can become a great mentor.

“We have mentors from students to grandparents, teachers and builders, lawyers and race car drivers and everyone in between.  We do have eligibility criteria as well (police check, reference checks, fully vaccinated and a home interview) before the mentor orientation training begins.

“All training and support is free and fully provided by Pillars. Pillars recruits mentors through local media, word of mouth, and social media.”

More mentors needed

Mentors are needed in Auckland and Christchurch – the two cities where Pillars has mentoring programmes.

Mentors of all ages are needed – from students to retired folks, but there is a particular shortage of male mentors.

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For more information:

Read our previous Pillars story


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