FOR Emma the best thing about having a mentor is being able to focus on getting her life sorted out without being judged.

“It gives me someone I can talk to who doesn’t know too much about my past,” says the 22-yearold from Southampton.

“She’s someone who can work just with me, without all the baggage of my past. I can be honest and not have to worry about not saying this or that. I don’t have to be anything except me.”

Emma (not her real name) has been in contact with the Rainbow Project since she was 17, when it was largely a housing project and she lived in one of their hostels.

Since then, due to contracts being put out to tender by the council, the charity’s focus has changed to mentoring and work placement for vulnerable young people.

Mum-of-one Emma was referred back to the Rainbow Project for mentoring through their Moving 4ward project by her support worker.

She has been meeting with her volunteer mentor, Celia Dowden, since October, and feels she has greatly benefited from it already.

“I wanted someone else to talk to and help in thinking of things like what to do with my daughter, work and college. Having someone else to encourage me and help me find out what I need to do has been really helpful – and we have a giggle,” she says.

Lee (not his real name) first got involved with the Rainbow Project about a year ago, when the Job Centre suggested he applied for a place on Rainbow’s job placement scheme Life Chances. He got on well with the placement and managed to get casual work afterwards elsewhere, but that contract ended.

He had been mentored as part of the job placement scheme and when his temporary job came to an end he decided to return to the project for further mentoring.

“It helps with everything in your life,” says the 23-year-old from Southampton.

“Sometimes you can’t talk to your family about certain things.

It’s good to talk to someone about what’s going on in your life, if you’ve got any problems or issues and you know you’re not going to be judged.”

Problem areas The mentors use a scale to help chart where the mentees are at in different areas of their lives as the meetings go on, and help the young people set goals to tackle problem areas. The meetings take place once a fortnight and last an hour, with new goals set each time and the success of the previous ones discussed.

The nature of the meetings varies between young people.

Celia and Emma meet in a cafe to talk, whereas Lee and his mentor John Richards often spend time filling in job application forms.

Lee has now secured a place on a prestigious training scheme which will hopefully result in a permanent job. He says: “I don’t know what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t come here but I don’t think my opportunities would be as good as they are now. You can go down a slippery path and that can be it.”

Emma says that working with her mentor has sharpened her own decision-making ability.

“I have got better at making decisions,” she says. “Talking about things helps you concentrate and see how you feel and you can take the next step forward. If I wasn’t having mentoring, I think I would be in a very different place. There are certain things I can’t talk to anyone else about.”

Mentors Celia and John, and project manager Laura Coleman, agree that mentoring isn’t a miracle cure to all of a young person’s problems but if they want to take advantage of it, it can be very effective. You can offer mentoring but if that young person isn’t in the right frame of mind it won’t do anything for them,” says Celia.

“As a mentor you have to have realistic expectations of what you can achieve and recognise people won’t always do as well as you’d like but that for some people, even to turn up is a huge step for them in their particular circumstances.”

Laura, the Rainbow Project’s only paid member of staff, says: “This can be their first experience of someone caring enough to listen to them for an hour.”

Volunteer John adds: “We’re not judgemental. In many cases, the people they come up against in their lives are very critical.”

l Information: therainbowproject. or call 023 8022 3525.