James Turner has volunteered with Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre in their Youth Mentoring program for over 15 years.

During that time, James has supported eight students aged eight to thirteen years through weekly mentoring, for varying periods of time. A life-long volunteer, James was involved in other forms of volunteering before he became inspired to join the youth mentoring program in Hervey Bay.

“I first heard of the Youth Mentoring Program in the 1990’s but didn’t ask about it as I was involved in other voluntary activities, such as YMCA holiday activities, Interchange and St John Ambulance. It wasn’t until relocating to Hervey Bay in 2007, that I found a page for the Youth Mentoring Program and made a follow-up enquiry… The rest, as they say, is history, with me completing the training course in late September of that year and being matched to a thirteen-year-old Year 8 boy of aboriginal background at a local high school in October.”

The Youth Mentoring Program matched students that the local high school highlighted as needing support, with accredited volunteers who would meet with them weekly for conversations and support. The mentors acted as role models and constant places of safe and supportive connection for students who often faced challenges in their home lives. The mentors would visit their student during school hours and engage in conversation, indoor and outdoor games, provide support with reading and other school work. James reminisced on some of his past mentoring partnerships:

“My first match mentioned earlier, I’ll call him Davo*, like all of my future young clients came from a background of family dysfunction. In this case, Davo lived with his mother and younger sister here, while his father and six older siblings lived in country New South Wales. He was at least three years behind with his reading level, and basically disinterested in school work, and displaying challenging behaviours. So, we met twice a week for an hour during school hours to talk. It became clear to me that Davo would be better off with his father and older siblings in NSW. On one occasion he said that he was having certain problems with a teacher, so I relayed the details to my Program Coordinator… according to Davo things improved. It was in May the following year that my two terms with Davo, now in Year 9, ended when he was relocated to be with the bulk of his family in NSW; a good outcome.”

James emphasised the importance of mentors in young people’s lives, highlighting his relationship with one young person, Harry* who he supported throughout year 6, 7 and 8.

“Harry had a background of domestic and family violence. I think that school, for him, was a place of good adults, and throughout Year 6 he read aloud to me from a 1960’s kids adventure novel, which resulted in his reading Lexile showing a sizeable increase by December according to his Deputy Principal.”

“When he was in Year 7, which was still located in primary schools in 2010, Harry was in the class of his favourite teacher, the same one he had in Year 5, when I departed Australia for six weeks, having given Harry six months’ notice of my plans. Upon my return, I was informed by the Deputy Principal that three weeks after my departure, Harry’s favourite class teacher had become ill and was on extended sick leave. My absence alone, he could cope with, but with both me and his teacher, his two main emotional supports, absent, Harry really couldn’t cope, and was miserable. It was a classic example of very bad timing but does emphasise the mentor’s role.”

James also highlighted the importance of ‘expecting the unexpected and not reacting’ and the value of sharing his passions with the young people. Apart from volunteering, James a great many hobbies and talents, which he would often share with his mentees.

“It is always useful to have a personal interest that will also be of interest to young people. In my case, it is flying. Although having retired from the private aviation sector, I still try to engage with boys using remote-controlled toy helicopters and a board game about flying around the world to different cities, plus table soccer.”

“My other interest has been writing. I have written two quadrilogies, Dangerous Days and Blades, in the young adult genre, set in Australia, USA and England, which are part of the growing publish-on-demand sector. I also wrote a trilogy of short stories, Jake’s Big Adventures, for the primary school age group, some of which my students and I have read aloud together.”

Over his incredible 15 years of volunteering his time, sharing his passions and encouraging young people, James has seen many successful outcomes in his students. The young people he mentors value the one-on-one time spend get with him, often seeing him as an important, constant figure and role model in their lives. James’ volunteer work demonstrates the incredible power of human connection and dedication.

*Names changed for confidentiality


Published: June 2023
Written By: Taylor Bast