Employer Supported My Child Mentor Work: A Case Study
Geraldine Cavanagh works in sales for a large soft drinks retailer. Two years ago the company introduced a volunteering policy. “It never would have occurred to me to volunteer for anything until HR sent an email round all staff here.” Her employer decided to adopt several charity projects and to donate staff time and expertise to assist with them.
As she read through them an appeal for child mentors caught her eye. With three grown-up children herself Geraldine has some experience of the demands that children can face. She was touched by the thought of other children facing difficulties without necessarily having the degree of support that her own children had. She cleared it with her line manager and then signed up to donate four hours of her time each month to child mentoring.
“It definitely took me out of my comfort zone.” Before she got to meet ‘her’ child she received thorough training alongside colleagues in aspects such as child protection, boundaries and mentoring skills. She also had to apply for a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) background check.
Geraldine admits that she was quite nervous when she was first introduced to Sara (not her real name.) “I think we both were, so I decided to make a joke out of it and admit it and that seemed to break the ice.” Sara’s father had left home when she was born and her mother was a recovering drug addict. As well as going to school 12-year old Sara also took on the bulk of caring for her three younger brothers and sisters.
“Sara was very bright but very defensive. To begin with she ran rings round me.” Through her training Geraldine had learnt not to take snubs personally and through her own experience as a mother she could see that Sara was actually a very vulnerable little girl. “My role is to inspire Sara, to encourage her to aim high and to build up her confidence in achieving her dreams.”
Geraldine acts as a sounding board for Sara and makes sure that she gets quality time focusing on herself rather than others. A breakthrough day came when they went to the cinema together to see ‘High School Musical’ and Sara admitted that she would love to be an actress or fashion designer. “No-one had ever encouraged Sara to believe she could actually achieve these dreams, so she and I were able to look at what is actually involved, what her abilities are and the steps she can take to bring them closer.” Sara has now chosen options in English, Drama and Art and Design at school and belongs to the school drama group where she has acted in several plays – and even a musical.
“Even if Sara never becomes an actress she has grown in confidence and now believes that her dreams are important.” As for Geraldine she has found her volunteering experience transforming too “I now consider Sara almost a member of my family, although obviously there are boundaries in place. I never expected such a strong bond to form and I find it so rewarding to spend time with Sara and to act as a springboard for her. I’ve learnt so much about myself too in terms of personal development and am very glad that my employer gave me this opportunity. Employer supported volunteering really is a win-win.”