Mark and Pip Pennington, a retired couple from the Kapiti coast, made waves recently by becoming the first retired couple to take part in a 6-month mentoring program through the Wellington Boys’ & Girls’ Institute (BGI). The couple were paired with two young people, one of Maori-Samoan heritage and the other locally born, living in their neighbourhood.
At the end of the programme they took part in an intercultural hip-hop dance with their mentees and wider family at a graduation ceremony at Government House. The intercultural dynamics was a stirring sight, bringing some in the audience to tears. Pip said that “the dance was the mentees’ idea, they’re always dancing, so we joined in.”
Challenge for change is a mentoring program for 9-13 year olds that is coordinated by BGI, a youth development organisation. Mentors and mentees commit to meeting twice a week for 6 months and the programme works in partnership with a compulsory parenting program. Over 400 partnerships have graduated from the program over the last 14 years.
Mark and Pip didn’t think twice about getting involved in the mentoring programme. They’re both used to pioneering and making waves – Mark designed Te Papa’s Awesome Forces Earthquake House and Pip retiring as a laboratory scientist Last year – and they were keen to give something back.
So, they were surprised to find no-one else their age volunteering as mentors. They felt that they had the advantage of spare time, which many of the younger volunteers had little of. They’ve now started encouraging their friends to get involved.
The couple said they felt really supported throughout the whole process. “The support we received was non-judging, supportive and strong” said Pip, particularly highlighting the work of Challenge for Change’s coordinator, saying “Jacinta has been amazing!”
Although they were given a budget, Mark and Pip didn’t spend money while they taking part in the programme. Rather they used free resources – going on beach walks, making river dams, bike rides, and journaling. For Mark, the buzz came from investing in someone and seeing them come to fruition, which he described as ‘so rewarding.’ going on to explain that “Everybody need someone to believe in them.”
“We found the journaling particularly helpful, which helped us identify issues we face in life and how that can affect the different aspects of our life. Talking about it helps to build resilience. The programme is not about ‘bad kids’, it’s about kids with a huge potential, who’re facing an obstruction, it’s awesome” said Mark.
Now that the programme is over the couple plans to continue meeting with their mentees and have begun planning bigger projects like redesigning one of their mentee’s bedroom’s and constructing the cabinetry together in the workshop.
Pip particularly valued the intercultural dynamic, saying that “it’s easy to find yourself insulated if you don’t put yourself out there for experiences like this.” She says she took great care not to take her mentee away from her culture, instead cherishing that. “It was great joining BGI for the Marae stay together, which gave me greater understanding into the culture of my mentee.”
They also made a point of involving the families of the mentees and inviting them to join in with their own; looking for opportunities to have them around for meals and celebrate milestones together. They valued the time as a wider family; saying “all the siblings had fun egging each other on.”
Mark and Pip found out about the BGI mentoring through a family friend but many of BGI’s volunteers get involved through local volunteer centres such as Volunteer Wellington. Volunteer Wellington works to support 381 charitable organisations in the greater wellington region. There are 21 other Volunteer centres like volunteer Wellington scattered across New Zealand, if you would like to volunteer, click here to find your local centre.