Former Dapto High School student Maddison Milbrya said she felt lost at 14, nine years later she's found her calling: walking through the same school gates as a mentor.
"When I was 14, I just felt so alone and that it was hard for me to connect with anyone," she said.
"Eventually what got me through to the other side was having a trusted mentor in my life."
The 23-year-old is one of the volunteer mentors in the Raise Foundation Youth Mentoring program.
A selected group of year eight and nine students from Dapto, Keira, and Albion Park High School were paired with a mentor to support them in the past 20 weeks.
Students spent an hour per week with their mentor and group focusing on building resilience, school belonging, goal setting, and learning to ask for help.
Raise Program Counsellor Jeanie Taylor said the students usually just need a little bit of support to gain confidence.
"[The program's aim is] to empower young people make them feel seen, and heard, and happy, and have confidence," Ms Taylor said.
"They're just there to support them through like what we believe is a pretty tricky time in their lives."
Ms Milbrya said her mentor was Dapto school counsellor Katrina Davies.
"She always was on my side ... she was just an adult that I trusted and I could go to and I knew that if I needed that support she was there," Ms Milbrya said.
It's a full-circle moment for the 23-year-old as she watches her own mentee "coming out of their shell" and grow their confidence.
A graduation was held for the students and mentors on October 17 to finish the 20-week Raise Youth Mentoring Program.
As Ms Milbrya walked out of the school gates for her second Dapto graduation, she reflected on the role her mentor had in her life.
"I wouldn't have been on the path that I am now if it wasn't for my school counsellor," she said.
Ms Milbrya graduated from the University of Wollongong with a double degree in social science and psychology science and has accepted a position at the graduate program with the Department of Education.
The Raise Foundation is recruiting mentors from the community for the 2024 Raise Youth Mentoring Programs. For details visit www.raise.org.au
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