New Indigenous COACH mentoring to support families and individuals to flourish
As Australia celebrates National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June) The Salvation Army Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team is interviewing and training mentors in the advanced planning stages of the first Indigenous COACH mentoring program in Australia.
In the spirit of the National Reconciliation Week 2023 theme, ‘Be a Voice for Generations’ the program trains mentors to offer friendship, support and voice to help families and individuals with children to “flourish emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually”.
COACH – ‘Creating Opportunities and Casting Hope’ – is a program aimed at strengthening communities through one-to-one mentoring. Trained mentors work with participants to establish a plan to address one or more self-identified life challenges.
The program was designed by and is managed through Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne and currently runs in well over 100 communities around Australia. COACH network partners are provided with tailored and professional assistance to recruit, train, support and match mentors with participants.
The new COACH Indigenous Program – designed in partnership with The Salvation Army Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team – aims to support and empower Indigenous families and individuals with children (initially) in the Townsville region and will involve training a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous mentors.
The program is fully inclusive, with a vision “to see people in tough places flourish through one-to-one mentoring and empowering communities”. It focuses on fostering genuine friendships that affirm and celebrate each person’s unique strengths and skills.
Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Townsville
Salvation Army Indigenous COACH Coordinator, Jennifer Reuben, explains that she and The Salvation Army’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team, together with a number of local elders in the Townsville area worked on the training material, and more recently on mentor training.
It is hoped that initially more than 20 families, or individuals with children in Townsville (and possibly later Palm Island) will be supported with referrals including self-referral and referral by organisations such as local health services, counsellors, churches and community organisations.
Participants will be offered 12 months of one-to-one mentoring.
“COACH has been described by a participant as ‘friendship with purpose’,” Jennifer says. “Good communication skills, a good heart and a listening ear are essential, and our mentors come from a range of backgrounds (obviously also with references and safety checks).
“Many people we speak to about possibly becoming mentors, don’t realise until they think about it, that they are already acting as mentors in their communities and families in many ways. For our mentors, this program is a more formal and structured extension of what many are already doing.”
Reconciliation in action
Jennifer says that the COACH mentoring program is a perfect example of practical reconciliation – bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous mentors with participants, building friendships and understanding and giving a voice to those who may have felt marginalised.
Jennifer is passionate and excited by the potential of the program.
She was born in Darwin and her mother was part of the ‘Stolen Generation’ from the Nauiyu (Daly River) region of the Northern Territory. Her father from the West of the Torres Strait Islands and her stepfather from Murray Island in the East of the Torres Strait Islands.
She says, “Reconciliation includes acknowledging that others tried to ‘disposed of’ our people as a result of colonisation in Australia. First Nations people want to work towards and move equally towards a good future, but there is still so much inequality in areas like health and incarceration.
“This program will aim to bring deeper unity and understanding between the First Nations and non-Indigenous peoples and build respect as we come together and work together.”
Jennifer says that while the program is new for The Salvation Army and Indigenous communities, the wider COACH program has a proven track record and the stories of transformation and hope from other communities are heartwarming and inspiring.
Ali is one of many who has had their life transformed, saying, “A series of tragic events set my life on a different path. I felt like a failure. COACH embraced my whole family. My daughter was struggling at school and is now at university. I got really good marks and passed the entrance exam for university to study medicine. That was after being at home bringing up five children for the previous 14 years.
“Now my life is so different. My heart is open to new possibilities. I feel focused and strong and a part of the community.”