Lilly Scullie was just 22 years old when she was approached by the then coordinator of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Wangaratta, in Victoria's north-east, to become a mentor.
"I remember feeling like what do I have to give to someone else? My life was quite plain," she said. Despite that, she agreed and was matched with three young mentees, including 12-year-old Stacey." We just really connected and I enjoyed hanging out with her. It really just worked." Eleven years on, both have families of their own and still play important roles in each others' lives." At the time … you would never think in 11 years we'll still be friends and sharing nappy rash stories," Ms Scullie said." It's amazing that that's just what happens when you develop a relationship and you both just click and you both get things out of it." It really has extended far beyond the program. She doesn't need me but we love supporting each other."
The program, which runs for about 12 months, involves mentors regularly catching up with their mentee. Ms Scullie says the casual nature of the program is what makes it work.
"The big brother, big sister vibe; if you can keep that going that's what develops those really great connections rather than having formalities that may put the young people off." The pair often had family dinners together and unknowingly, Ms Scullie was supporting and guiding Stacey through her adolescence." Stacey did have some things going on in her life … maybe I was able to help her through some of those things even though I didn't quite understand my role at the time.
"Creating those important friendships and relationships that people just haven't had I think it's really important."
The program stopped running out of Wangaratta about eight years ago due to funding issues but Bek Nash-Webster, program coordinator at Grit and Resilience, has been pushing for its return." It is an early intervention and prevention approach. It's very much about targeting young people who may be at risk of disengaging from the community," she said. Her hard work has paid off with the program set to return next year.
Big Brothers Big Sisters chief executive Mark Watt says demand for mentoring programs in regional areas is growing." It's been quite overwhelming really," he said." We're finding a lot of regional communities coming to us wanting to start a mentoring program.
He said in the past 12 months the organisation has had more than 500 referrals from young people wanting mentors." It's incredible. Families reaching out, single mums, grandparents, agencies, people with kids in foster care, just young people in a family that want that extra support."
The Grit and Resilience program is working with the community to better understand what drives positive mental health and wellbeing. This four-year initiative aims to help our community to unite and build strength, courage and connection with each other, so that we can overcome hardships together.
The program is funded by the Federal Government and is governed by four Community Partners in addition to the Rural City of Wangaratta, Victoria Police, The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, Albury Wodonga Health, Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service, Gateway Health and headspace Wangaratta.