Teenage didn’t come easy for Nita McNair. Warm and articulate, with empathy that belies her age, it’s difficult to imagine that the third year university student
once struggled to find direction.
It’s those difficult teenage years that spurred Nita on to becoming a volunteer mentor two years ago. “I saw a poster up in the psych department at uni,” she recalls. “Mentoring seemed like such a fit for me because, I can honestly say, if it weren’t for a single mentor-figure who helped me through my adolescence, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing today.” ‘Doing what I’m doing’ is a double degree in Law and Psychology at the University of Canterbury – a long way from the Los Angeles of her adolescence but a homecoming of sorts as Nita spent her early years in the garden city.
While her youth may have been the catalyst to explore mentoring, Nita has many reasons for remaining in Presbyterian Support’s volunteer mentors’ programme. “I wanted to integrate what I was learning in class with real life,” says Nita. “Mentoring really brought me face to face with some of the ugly truths of this world, but it has also enriched my life beyond measure.” Nita currently mentors a pre-teen female whose situation puts her at greater risk of losing her way in life and who may benefit from a strong female role model. Nita also helps to run a girls’ ‘Journey of Hope’ programme alongside a Presbyterian Support social worker.
Nita explains: “These are kids. More often than not they’ve been in situations they shouldn’t have been in. That’s a hard truth. It makes me grateful to be able to be there so that they have someone to depend on. It has made me more dependable.”
Being a mentor has made Nita very aware of her place in other people’s lives, an awareness that she now carries with her into all of her relationships. “As a mentor you really have to think about what you say and do because it will have an effect on these young people and their experience of life.” Sometimes, that means holding your tongue or being in situations that make you uncomfortable. You know you are dealing with a young kid, sometimes you will find yourself in awkward situations, and as a young person myself, I don’t really always know what I’m supposed to do, or how I am supposed to act, but I guess it is about just dissociating how you feel and focusing on what the person you are mentoring needs in that moment,” she says.
Nita is one of a number of university student mentors in the Presbyterian Support programme. “I do think that age has something to do with it [her decision to become a mentor],” she says. “This is the age I guess you still (haha) feel like you can change the world! You want to contribute in whatever way you can.” And her advice to anyone of any age who may be considering mentoring: “Just do it! As with life there is good and bad to it, but the good most definitely outweighs the bad on this one! “Besides, if you’re not experiencing and giving something back to this world then what are you doing?”
Presbyterian Support provides ongoing training and support to all volunteers in its mentoring programmes.
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