Matthew is a 16-year-old with a plan! He loves basketball and is working hard to secure a place at a US university - the next step towards his dream of becoming an NBA player.
He's overcome some significant obstacles in the 4 years since we first met him. Youth worker Yvonne shares his story:
The 12-year-old Matthew, who climbed onto the Waltham Forest Youth Bus with his friends, was quiet and lacking confidence. He struggled with reading and literacy and he found communication difficult. However, he enjoyed the Youth Bus sessions, especially the cooking activities, and became one of our regulars. When Matthew's school referred him to our literacy support mentoring programme, "That Reading Thing", I began working 1-to-1 with him. The fact that he already knew me helped Matthew to relax, rather than coming to our mentoring sessions tense and anxious. Our relationship worked well because, as well as feeling comfortable reading together, we were also able to share experiences of our similar backgrounds about growing up and going to school in Jamaica.
“Yvonne helped me with my literacy and she understood me very well. Carl (another youth worker) was a positive black male role model and the other youth workers were friendly and approachable. Helen (Branch Leader) says hello when she sees me outside of the youth bus sessions!"
Alongside our mentoring sessions, Matthew continued to attend the Youth Bus, where talking to different people helped him to overcome his difficulties with communication and learn to respect other people’s views. He came on some of our trips to the theatre in the West End and joined us on a residential boat trip in Essex. Attending the residential, sharing in the responsibilities on the boat and living (temporarily) alongside others helped to build Matthew's confidence and develop his team-working skills. Taking part in "That Reading Thing" mentoring had the biggest impact: Matthew felt supported and greatly improved his reading skills, which boosted his confidence and helped him tackle his G.C.S.E’s. His hard work and commitment paid off and he secured a place at college.
Over time, the demands of college and basketball training meant that Matthew stopped coming to the Youth Bus regularly, but during lockdown, I checked in with him to see how he was and offer support and someone to talk to during this strange time. Matthew was really pleased to hear from me and said that he would like regular youth work support calls, as well as some help with writing his C.V. During one of our phone conversations, he said to me, “I’ve been meaning to tell you, thank you so much for helping me with my literacy reading and spelling. It means a lot to me."
I found it very rewarding working with Matthew. We developed a good mentor/mentee relationship as we saw each other so often and it was lovely catching up with him during lockdown and seeing the confident, focused and nice young man he has developed into. Looking back, I can see how different Matthew's plans for the future could have been. His aspiration to go to university in another country would have been totally out of reach. Through his hard work, with the right opportunities and support, many of the academic and personal/social barriers he faced have been removed and Matthew has built the qualities and self belief he will need to achieve his goals.