How did you first end up coming to Body & Soul?
I started off coming to Body & Soul as a member from the age of 14. After finding out about the organisation from my doctor when I was diagnosed HIV positive, I attended but felt shy and didn’t attend again until a year after. I began to attend Body & Soul regularly as a way to overcome my shyness and to meet new people.
What made you start volunteering with the Beyond Boundaries programme?
I was introduced to Beyond Boundaries by Emma [Body & Soul’s director] while I was studying interior architecture at university. She saw the potential in me and thought it would be a good idea for me to join the Beyond Boundaries team; she thought that sharing my experiences would be of value to members. I told her I was shy, didn’t have experience and couldn’t see the connection with interior architecture, but she encouraged me to attend a four-week training course. The best part of the training is that I could achieve a GSCE qualification at the end. I eventually told Emma that I was interested.
What was the training like?
The training took place one day a week over four weeks. The idea behind the training was that we as mentors should be able to talk to our mentees about the things they’re going through and help them to find their own solutions by identifying short-term and long-term goals. We learned about confidentiality – the conversations we have with our mentees are confidential unless they give us permission to share information with other team members to help them reach their goals. As mentors we need to be able to recognise when a mentee might be in danger of harm and what to do if this is the case. We ask open ended questions and give mentees time and space to express themselves.
Towards the end of the training, we got a chance to call a mentee and put theory into practice. This was a very daunting task for me. I did not know what to expect, but it eventually got easier after the first few calls. My aim was to establish a relationship with my mentees and to begin to build up trust.
What’s it like working as part of Beyond Boundaries?
Beyond Boundaries is something I look forward to every week. No two nights are the same. On a typical shift I make three to five calls to my assigned mentees within one and a half to two hours. How long I spend on the phone to each mentee depends on how engaged the mentee is – sometimes my mentees are returning home from work or school and they may feel exhausted, which is understandable. The calls on average last between 10-20 minutes.
We have a team meeting at the end of the night, which I find useful because I can see how other mentors resolve difficult matters. As well as the team meetings, we attend training sessions every other month to refresh our skills and recap on the fundamentals of coaching.
What difference has Beyond Boundaries made to your life?
When I started Beyond Boundaries I was shy and not always sure what to include in conversations with mentees. Now that I’m more experienced, I see things differently – I keep conversations simple and don’t rush to fill the silences.
I remember helping one particular mentee who was feeling overwhelmed by life… family, career, relationship, education. I suggested that she should make a list of changes she wanted to see happen, and then focus on one at a time. She felt better after our conversation and eventually things began to click into place. The fact that mentees are able to achieve their goals with my assistance is an accomplishment.
My role in the Beyond Boundaries service has motivated me to push myself in certain areas of my own life, seeing the possibilities in situations. I’ve also found myself a job. I was given an award for my coaching in recognition of my strengths in this area. All of this makes me feel appreciated and hopeful towards life in general.
Beyond Boundaries is made possible by the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
*Names may be changed to protect the confidentiality of members.