Raise Foundation: The Mosman Mentoring Program Changing Lives and Building Futures For Our Teens.
IN A SMALL OFFICE IN THE HEART OF MOSMAN, RAISE FOUNDATION IS WORKING TO SUPPORT AUSTRALIA'S YOUTH, BY OFFERING SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY BASED MENTORING PROGRAMS. CHIEF EXECUTIVE VICKI CONDON SAT DOWN WITH MOSMAN COLLECTIVE WRITER PETA GARRETT TO TALK ABOUT HER PASSION FOR AN ORGANISATION THAT IS HELPING SO MANY.
Photography by Graham Monro from gmphotographics
"Plan it and do it", is what Vicki Condon’s Dad used to say to her as a child.
She remembers how he’d always respond with the phrase whenever she thought about doing something.
“I’d say I want to join the netball team and he’d say "plan it and do it,” Vicki says with fondness.
And that’s exactly what Vicki did in 2009, when she came up with the idea for Raise Foundation.
'Raise' impacts the wellbeing of young people in Australia, by providing best practice youth mentoring programs for kids and teens.
“If I’m being honest it was probably my mid-life crisis,” she says modestly.
“I turned 40 and I thought, ok, will I have a big party - or will I finally work out what I actually want to do with my life?”
Months of procrastination, along with a "crisis of confidence" followed, with Vicki convincing herself that Australia's charity space was over-populated. But the shock death of a family friend changed everything, becoming her personal call-to-action.
“Our family experienced a young person’s suicide and it was on the day of the funeral that I pulled out my business plan - I knew I had to do something," Vicki said.
And so Raise was born. Vicki registered her charity, receiving $8,000 in donations at her first event.
A further $10,000 (thanks to Tony Abbott’s Pollie Peddle) meant Vicki was able to establish the first three Raise programs; at Mosman, Pittwater and Cromer High Schools.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Raise has trained 3500 volunteer mentors, each matched individually with mentees, and the results are clearly evident.
Schools report seeing improvement in classroom behaviour and academic results, and young people are more able to focus and get their work done.
“Mentees are building their resilience, they're able to cope better with challenges, and they’re increasing their confidence and their self belief,” Vicki says.
It’s self-belief that enabled Vicki to take the first steps in starting Raise, and she admits she didn’t always have it.
“I was a very shy teenager,” Vicki says.
But thanks to a Year 11 commerce teacher who became her mentor, Vicki gained the confidence she needed to study at university - and score her first job.
“My teacher was the one who helped me believe in myself," she says.
“If not for her just having that belief in me and making me believe in myself, my life would’ve been very different.”
Vicki's own experience of falling pregnant as a teenager led to the creation of Raise’s Bump mentoring program, where experienced Mums mentor pregnant girls, aged between 13 and 23.
“We run a terrific program for young girls who decide to go through with their pregnancies to become Mums - and they do such a good job.”
The Bump program is one of five programs run by Raise that provide neutral, positive role models as mentors for young people throughout Australia.
Initially launched in three schools, Raise now runs 85 programs for 1136 kids around Australia, all from a two-roomed office in the heart of Mosman.
“I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed and blown away by the support from Mosman,” Vicki says.
“A huge percentage of our mentors have been Mosman or Lower North Shore residents. They help us with funding, they volunteer on our committees - and they’re our staff.
“I feel like Mosman has really given Raise a home."
But for Vicki, the work is far from over, with Raise’s latest initiative, The Big Blue Sky Project, aiming to provide a mentor to every Year 8 student in the country, during the most critical time in their adolescence.
Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that suicide is the number one cause of death for young Australians, with 2866 young people ending their lives in 2016.
“We’re known as the lucky country, but the biggest killer of young people in Australia is suicide - and there’s a real disconnect out there,” she says.
“If we can intervene in Year 8 and help build confidence and get kids to engage in school, then we can help them on a pathway towards a happier adulthood,” Vicki says.
And despite some saying the magnitude of the project is crazy, Vicki is undeterred.
“It’s like what Dad said about planning it and doing it. You can make a difference and you have that power, and it’s just a matter of stepping in – just start,” Vicki said.
And indeed, she has.
For more information on becoming a Raise mentor, contact the team here: www.raise.org.au