What's it like to be a volunteer mentor?

Have you ever thought of becoming a volunteer mentor but were uncertain about what it would entail?  As our ground-breaking Back to Life project comes to an end, we asked one of our volunteers, Despina, to recall her own experience.

Volunteering was something I’d thought about a lot, particularly when filling out endless forms found everywhere from the Jobcentre to Facebook ‘fun’ personality questionnaires. So I googled: ‘mental health’; ‘volunteer’; ‘opportunities’; ‘London’. I was a little nervous what the Internet would decide I was to do. Then I clicked and opened a link that caught my attention: TimeBank. ‘Be yourself. Be a volunteer’.  I certainly liked that motto, I thought. I wanted to get involved.

The project which caught my attention was Back to Life, a mentoring project for young people starting again, following mental illness. I thought of my life and how I had been supported by my own mentors. I clicked the link and filled out a form. Then anxiously my fingers finally pressed send. I finished my tea and smiled out the window full of anticipation and excitement, hoping I’d hear from them soon and that they’d like me.

So many questions flooded my mind: ‘Would I be a good mentor? What would it be like? How was this relationship with a new person going to develop?’  I was filled with questions as well as excitement and anticipation.

When the project co-ordinator called, I was reassured. To be honest I have not had an interview more comfortable, inspiring and empowering before. All went well and I was booked in for training.

The training Saturday came and walking into TimeBank’s office was a lot more nerve-wracking than I’d anticipated. As soon as I walked out of the lift, however, the sense of belonging returned. I wanted to be part of this so much and I admired the organisation’s dedication and effortful work in the community. My thoughts on meeting the team were that they were warm, welcoming, friendly, people with beautiful hearts and care about the world but still remaining practical, pragmatic and to the point.

 We started our training like excited children about to learn how to make something new. The volunteers were from all walks of life. Our trainer and project coordinator efficiently prepared us for our role as mentors whilst passing on her energy and enthusiasm. We learned about the nature of the project, about mental health, about the organisation, but (perhaps unexpectedly) we also learned about ourselves, how we deal with life situations, what our expectations and our personal limits are.

After the second day of training, I felt I had made new friends and was confident I could do this. What impressed me was the constant support from the TimeBank team. Apart from very good contact with our project coordinators, there were frequent meetings for all volunteers, matched or not yet, to meet up and support each other, as well as specialised training on relevant topics that would be helpful resources for our mentoring work. In these sessions we got a chance to exchange views and advice and share our experiences.

 After a short wait I was finally matched to my mentee. On receiving the news, I almost clapped my hands with excitement. Of course I had initial nerves, but I knew I had the support I needed from TimeBank and the knowledge to perform my task.

Look out for the next instalment of Despina’s blog to hear how she got on!