Meet the Mentoring Lead for Starting Point

Keren Newnham is Mentoring Lead for Starting Point. Here she talks abut her multifaceted role and her background in community development.

Having young people trust me with their stories is a huge honour for me. I feel privileged to be let into their circle of trust, and seek to connect with each young person I meet in a way that makes them know they are seen and noticed.

What is Traffic Light Mentoring?

Traffic Light Mentoring is designed to support young people aged 16-25 throughout their journey of attaining, maintaining and thriving within education, employment and training. Starting Point are unique in that we have no waiting time to access the programme, no time limit to how long young people stay with our programme, and we meet in locations that are familiar and comfortable. (Find out more about the Red, Amber and Green stages of Traffic Light Mentoring on the Starting Point website).

How do young people benefit from mentoring?

Young people benefit from mentoring in a number of ways: we meet them exactly where they are at on their life journey, using a relational model to tailor individual mentoring plans to each young person; we look at both practical and social/emotional elements that impact our young people; mentees have a reliable role-model that they can aspire too, who can help unlock their potential; we offer ongoing communication to guide and journey alongside our mentees as they navigate their way into education, employment and training; a support fund to help remove some of the financial barriers young people face; mock interviews to prepare for work; work experience or volunteering placements; and our mentors are local volunteers from a broad cross-section of the community, bringing a breadth of skills and talents, who choose to invest time in an individual.

Describe a typical working day for you…

No two days are the same for me! My time is spent mentoring my own caseload of young people, recruiting and training volunteers, processing referrals and meeting with other local service providers to strengthen partnerships between relevant services. I get to be out and about in Reading meeting young people in coffee shops and cafes, as well as visiting businesses to discuss ways we can partner together to invest in our local youth’s livelihoods. Mentoring young people provides me with loads of variety: I can discuss anything from CVs, applying for jobs, accessing support services, looking at colleges, to talking about far more personal topics such as ACES, trauma, mental health needs, and the impacts they have had on the young person’s life. I spend quite a lot of time looking for pathways to help solve complex problems, and remove the many barriers our young people face when trying to enter employment, education or training.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part is finding companies, businesses, or employers who are willing to employ young people with no qualifications or low qualifications, that also have complex needs and/or learning difficulties.

What’s the best part of your job?

There are so many ‘best parts’ it’s hard to choose: having young people trust me with their stories is a huge honour for me. I feel privileged to be let into their circle of trust, and seek to connect with each young person I meet in a way that makes them know they are seen and noticed. I love it when a young person rings me ecstatic to say they’ve just been employed for the first time, or they achieved a goal they never dreamt was possible. Watching them problem-solve the seemingly insurmountable, or dream bigger than they have done in the past always gives me a big kick too.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background…

My passion, as long as I can remember, has been to serve, advocate and empower on behalf of those who can’t for a multitude of reasons. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and worked as a secondary educator teaching English, History and Geography. Soon after having my own 4 children, we moved to New Zealand to have an adventure, where I worked in Alternative Education and Parenting Programs. Leaving New Zealand, we found ourselves situated in Texas, where I completed a Masters in International Development and Community Development. This spurred me on to research the relationship between power and need, and how communities can either thrive or struggle according to who is making decisions on their behalf.  I spent time working in a community in Mexico, as well as visiting many other communities around the world. After a short stint living in Rome, we moved to Reading. I spent some time getting my own family settled, and observing the various needs in Reading, realising I wanted to find a role that worked specifically on removing barriers that prevent our local youths from living full and positive lives of their choosing.  I saw the advertisement for a Mentoring Lead at Starting Point, and here I am!