Just wanted to express my heartfelt thanks to the school that J and L have been able to be part of the Kids Hope program this year. This has been such a positive part of the welfare program at school from our point of view and I would like to acknowledge this.  J and L have gained so much being a part of it and their mentors have gone above and beyond for them.  The party today was a culmination of the year with both kids proud to be a part of it.  They came home buzzing with excitement and happiness.  It was lovely to see. I’d love it if you could please pass on my enormous gratitude and thanks to the coordinator as well as the mentors themselves.
Letter from a Parent about mentors from St John’s Mount Waverley

Local church serving their community
Every week, for over 15 years, primary school children across Australia have been visited by caring mentors from a local church through the Kids Hope program. The model is simple. One Child. One Mentor. One Hour a week. Kids Hope is Australia’s largest early intervention, school-based mentoring program for children experiencing vulnerability – almost 2000 children across 250 schools. Initiated by World Vision, Kids Hope is now an independent charity.

In Port Phillip East Presbytery, five churches have provided adult volunteers as Kids Hope mentors in their local schools – Endeavour Hills, St Luke’s Mt Waverley, The Village Mt Eliza, Mt Waverley (formerly St John’s), and Uniting by the Bay (formerly Chelsea). More churches are needed as schools request support from Kids Hope.

Tim Smith, Community Engagement Officer with Kids Hope, says that with changes in religious education, churches have wondered “Do schools still want us?”. The answer is a resounding “Yes! Schools still want support from their local community. Kids Hope is a mentor program, but it opens the door for you to serve the school in many, many other ways. Your church becomes the partner in the community to serve them for other needs, whether it’s doing the BBQ at the school fete, working bees, helping out with breakfast clubs… It’s a wonderful community engagement opportunity to connect beyond the schoolyard. Our Kids Hope churches get fully engaged with the school community.”

The Village Church, Mt Eliza
Margaret Arnott is the Kids Hope Co-ordinator at The Village Church, Mt Eliza. “We were introduced to Kids Hope at a workshop organised by the Mornington Peninsula Shire in 2016 where Cam McAdam, myself and another church member were inspired by stories from coordinators and mentors, already seeing the wonderful outcomes for both children and mentors. We heard about their experiences, challenges, joys and commitment to the program and felt it was something we’d like to explore for our church. We invited Tim to present the program to our congregation and received overwhelming support, with many offering to consider becoming a mentor or a prayer partner straight away!

We met with the Principal and Wellbeing Coordinator at Kunyung, one of our local primary schools, where we explained the great concept, hoping that the Village Church and Kunyung could become partners. They readily agreed and a team of mentors soon became a valued part of the Kunyung school family. In our first term we had a group of seven mentors, five who were retired and two who were working four days a week and used their day off to join the program. So the ages ranged from 40’s to 70’s and included two couples.

The school appreciated the comprehensive training each mentor undertook, the respect for the secular nature of education and the Child Protection Policy which is reviewed and signed annually. As coordinator, I spent a day at head office in Scoresby training with a group from other churches and we were given a manual, access to videos and online resources to help with our training of mentors. Our church community has continued to be interested and involved, supporting fundraisers for the financial commitment to Kids Hope and appreciating articles and updates in the church news magazine.

Mt Waverley combined congregation
St John’s Mt Waverley became involved in Kids Hope in 2010 and now has 11 mentors. The former minister, the late Rev Dr Max Champion, was approached by Kids Hope following interest from the local primary school. As a school teacher, Kathy Ferguson was an ideal Co-ordinator for the church. The mentors are mainly in their 70’s and 80’s. Rev Semisi and his wife Lesieli Tauali’i are involved. For the mentors, it is a way of giving back to the community. Kathy says “Many children don‘t have grandparents in their lives. Mentors have often learned as parents or grandparents how to relate to children.” The focus is simply on developing a relationship. “The children find someone they can look up to, who is a good role model – someone they can trust.” Kathy says that the school has been a great support as they see the value of the program for their students. “Sometimes you see the value of the relationships and sometimes you don’t. Most of us can see that the children get more confidence or improve academically. They develop more resilience and coping strategies. One child said to me ‘Thank you for never giving up on me, Kathy.’ ”

The challenge of COVID
During the challenges of COVID, mentors have communicated as pen pals and through online meetings, as well as maintaining face to face when possible. Tim says, “As students come back, the need is going to be greater than ever. I think the demand is going to be huge. A lot of these kids are going to come back with significant social and emotional challenges. Schools are going to be looking for well-being and mentoring programs. We’re looking to 2022 to introduce new Kids Hope programs. Now is a great time to plan and prepare.”

Each Kids Hope program needs to appoint a coordinator to lead and manage the program on behalf of your church. They attend a full day of training to learn all aspects of the program and role, and then recruit, screen and train a group of volunteer mentors to meet with the children in the school. Kids Hope offer a range of helpful resources for mentors and co-ordinators. Participating churches pay an annual fee of several hundred dollars to Kids Hope which helps with the program organisation, oversight of child-safe processes and training for mentors and co-ordinators.

There are about 28 schools in Victoria wanting a local church to become involved, including schools in Frankston, Springvale, Cardinia, Clyde and Mt Waverley. Here’s a wonderful opportunity for 2022 for your church to be a valued partner in supporting children in your community.

Kathy told me that occasionally a child will ask “Who else to do you see at this school?” Her reply is “Only you.” She said that the look of amazement on the child’s face is wonderful.

Learn more about Kids Hope
Listen here to the interview with Tim Smith by Craig Mitchell. The interview was conducted over Zoom and the audio quality is limited. Duration 13 mins.

To find out more, contact Tim Smith at tim@kidshopeaus.org or go to the Kids Hope website – kidshope.org.au

Check out more videos on the Kids Hope Youtube channel.

If you’d like to talk with Kathy Ferguson, the Kids Hope Co-ordinator at the Mt Waverley combined congregation, contact the presbytery office for her contact details.