In 2004, in my role as Children and Family Coordinator, I was sitting in my office at Deep Creek Uniting Church when I received a visit from a mum whose child had attended our ‘Spotlight on Christmas’ kids workshops and our school holiday programs and where she had also helped as a volunteer. The family was not a ‘church family’ who worshipped on Sunday mornings but she identified us as her church. Her son, who attended Milgate Primary at the time, had been offered a place in a program called KidsHope and she came to ask me if I knew anything about it. Because it involved a church she was a bit anxious as to what it might be, so she came to see me at the ‘church’ where she clearly felt comfortable. KidsHope was new in Australia and I hadn’t heard of it so I told her I would make some enquiries.
KidsHope at that time had been brought to Australia by World Vision and was quite small with, if I recall correctly, only one person employed to develop it in Australia. It was only in a few schools in Victoria, but as I investigated and talked with the people at KidsHope I had a feeling that this was something our church should get involved in. I had worked for many years in our weekly kids clubs, our Christmas and Easter programs and school holiday clubs and felt that these programs filled a need, but KidsHope was something that could make a difference in schools. It excited me then and still does today.
Even though Milgate was our closest school, it had already partnered with another church, so I then looked at other schools in our area and had meetings with their Principals before deciding that Templestowe Park would be the school with whom we would partner. This commenced in 2005. A member of our congregation, Anneke took on the role of KidsHope Coordinator and worked hard to find volunteer mentors and have everyone trained.
After getting everything set up and working well over the first two years, Anneke and her family moved interstate. I was so thrilled when Jeanette offered to take over this role. She was the perfect fit and she continues to coordinate KidsHope at Templestowe Park Primary School to this day. I believe it is her devotion to the program that has enabled us to accomplish this 15 year milestone! Over the years, as well as our local church coordinator she has attended many workshops and been a regional trainer. KidsHope Aus has now separated from World Vision and become Australia’s largest early intervention, school-based mentoring program.
In 2008 Pilgrim Uniting Church partnered with Milgate after the original church decided to cease its KidsHope program. Pilgrim started its involvement with KidsHope after Gwyn daughter, Sandra, who was and still is the KidsHope Coordinator from Werribee Uniting at Werribee Primary, told her about the program. Gwyn has been the coordinator of KidsHope at Milgate since that time and now that we have an amalgamated MUC, she and Jeanette work in partnership to continue this amazing mentoring program in both schools.
Over the past 12 years there have been 18 different mentors at Milgate with 3 currently and 1 about to start when schools resume. There is a waiting list of 5 children. Gwyn tells me that there have been 50 – 60 children in the KidsHope program over the 12 years.
At Templestowe Park there have been 45 mentors over the 15 years with 23 mentors in the school at one point when Jenny Turpin was the Principal. Jenny believed that KidsHope was a very important addition to the school programs for the children involved. Currently there are 4 mentors at the school. Peter, Bob , Jeanette and I have been part of the KidsHope program from the start. We have each mentored a number of children in this time with each child having a different need. Two of the mentors from many years ago still have an association with their child.
For each mentor there is also a prayer partner. These are the people who pray for the mentor and child. This is an essential part of the KidsHope program.
Over the 15 years I have mentored 5 children. Each child has had different needs but with all the children I have cooked countless slices, cup cakes, honey joys, chocolate crackles and playdoh. We have played many board games, done heaps of puzzles, made beautiful and amazing crafts and enjoyed writing stories. Each child has made a journal of our time together each week. Some of our science experiments have worked better than others but they were always fun! We have shared stories and enjoyed our special hour together each week. Some of the children’s teachers have been amazing and I feel we have worked really well together. Some are especially grateful and acknowledge KidsHope as a vital part of the week for the child. Two of the mums have sought me out at school functions to talk about their child and thank me. It has been a very important practical ministry for me to be part of and I have really enjoyed these 15 years. When KidsHope resumes in term 3 I will be starting at Milgate with a new child. Up until now I have mentored at TPPS so it will be fun to go back to where my journey with KidsHope began.