Meet Zoe

Zoe participated in the Raise Program when she was 15 yrs old. Here she shares with us what life was like for her before Raise, what she’s learned along the way, as well as the thing that surprised her the most – the power of someone showing up and just listening each week.

Things aren't always what they seem. 

When I was in year 9, I guess from the outside I seemed like a normal 15-year-old kid. I went to an all-girls school, and I was really interested in sports. I was a very sporty kid but was also extremely competitive and that transferred over to academics as well. I was very perfectionistic and overly critical of myself. Underneath, I had a lot of issues with self-esteem. I did not have a lot of confidence, despite how well I did at school and in sport. I thought I was hiding it well, but it was obvious to some of my teachers that I was struggling, and it was one of the reasons I ended up in the Raise program. I was also dealing with a lot of body image issues and disordered eating at the time. 

I needed support but I didn’t know how to ask. 

When I first got invited to the program, I did not realise what it was. I was told to meet the head teacher of wellbeing at recess, and I was thinking ‘what have I done, I've done something wrong, I'm going to be in trouble.’ Then, I got handed the permission note to give my parents and initially, I was worried to give it to them. I had it in my head that I needed to be this golden child, to maintain that nothing was wrong with me, I was doing well in school, I was doing well in sport, and I didn’t want to let them down. But I did want the help. I wanted the help of someone that was not my parents, to have that separation. 

A safe space to open up without judgement. 

At the beginning of the program, I still had this sense in the back of my mind that I didn’t need to be there. But once we got started, and played a lot of games and ice breakers, I thought that it was kind of cool and more fun than I was expecting, and I warmed to the idea of having a safe space. It felt like it was removed from school and in a space where I wasn't judged. Being at a girls’ school, I was always with my big group of friends which was very cliquey, and there is a fear of being embarrassed or doing something wrong, but in the mentoring program I didn’t feel that pressure. I wasn’t ready to open up completely to my mentor at first, so we ended up talking in a group of four, and I really liked how flexible everyone was. It was about what I was comfortable with and what I wanted to do. Eventually, what I got out of it was the importance of opening up to people and the importance of reaching out when you need help and then building the tools to be able to do that. You also learn to identify who else in your life would be a good mentor, and who can support you.   

The power of showing up and listening. 

I think the most important thing about this program, and this is really underrated, is just having someone who listens. Not someone who tries to fix things but who listens, without judgement. I think a lot of people need to know that when someone's talking to you they’re not asking you to fix them. I just needed someone to talk to and someone who would listen. My mom is a high school principal so it could feel like a bit of a principal-student relationship back then. Sometimes coming to her with things, I was worried that I'd be in trouble or she’d see me differently. So having my mentor who was just there, who could just listen to me, that was the main thing I needed. My mentor was so good at that - she would let me talk about what I wanted to talk about, she would tell me that she could relate to me and tell me her own experiences. She didn't jump in and she didn't feel like she had to solve the problems. She had volunteered her time to come and sit down and talk with me for 20 weeks. It was almost a concept I couldn't wrap my head around.  

Having a mentor gave me the skills to ask for help. 

I think it's super common for teenagers and young people to not want to burden others. I often felt like I was bothering or annoying the adults in my life. I felt like they didn't want to dedicate that time to me. They had so many adult problems and bigger things to deal with. So, the fact an adult had volunteered their time and wanted to listen and wanted me to talk to them, that really helped with me realising that it is okay to reach out, there are people out there that want to support you. So, after Raise, I realised that it is okay to reach out for help. Without the program, I wouldn't have been able to get the support I did from my Mum, from teachers, from other adults in my life. If I didn't develop those tools or if I didn’t make that connection in my brain that it is okay to reach out, I don’t know if I could’ve done it. I just realised how big a difference it makes when someone wants to listen to you or when you have someone to talk to. I would be very different without the program. I wouldn't have gotten as much support as I did. I would not have known how to reach out to get it.  

Being a mentor can change a young person’s life. 

Young people really appreciate an adult putting that time in each week to just listen to them (even if they don't show it at the time.). Looking back, it meant a lot to me. I spoke with one of my friends who did the program as well, and she also can't believe these people were so kind to give up their time. We might not show it when we're 14 or 15 years old, but we really do appreciate it. If you want to develop skills in being a good listener, it's a really good program to get involved with. All you need is to be able to listen and able to guide people in the right direction. It's really simple and it can be life changing. 

Just give it a try.  

If I was to speak to a young person about doing the program, I'd say give it a shot even if you think it isn’t for you. It's really worthwhile giving it a try. Go in with an open mind, because when I think back to that time when I initially got that permission slip, I was so concerned about giving it to my mum because deep down it really mattered to me and I really wanted to do the program. We can all benefit from the support of a mentor. Keep an open mind and go with it and see where it takes you.   

If you would like to make a difference and help someone like Zoe click here for more information.

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