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Jan volunteers to help students go further

"I am really excited to be volunteering with The Smith Family and to give something back to an organisation that helped me and my family when we truly needed it the most,” says Jan, iTrack volunteer mentor.

When Jan was just six years old, she received her first pair of school shoes with help from The Smith Family. Her mum was a widow with three children and couldn’t make ends meet on her own.

“I can remember that I was proud as punch to go to school in those shoes. I looked just like all the other girls at primary school that day,” said Jan.

Jan knows all too well the challenges facing disadvantaged students. After her father passed away, Jan’s older brother dropped out of school to support the family. In Year 10, Jan also left early to take up work at a steelworks.

iTreack Volunteer Jan as a child with dog Soda

I had this idea that I should and could try to do something different with my life.

Soon she realised that without education, her prospects would be limited.

It wasn’t an easy road. Jan continued working while she completed her HSC at TAFE then went to university. Her dedication paid off. She went on to complete a Masters in Education and manage a university Faculty of Education.

As Jan approached retirement, she looked for a volunteering opportunity that aligned with her passion for education. Our 18-week online mentoring program iTrack was the perfect fit. It pairs Learning for Life students in Years 9 to 11 with volunteer mentors who help them to build aspirations and plans for their futures.

"I was the first in the family to go to university,” said Jan.

“I can still understand what it was like, not having anyone else in the family who had been to uni. My family didn't understand why I had given up a good job to become a uni student and to struggle to support myself as a waitress for those few years.

"I hope I can share some advice and insights from my experiences to inspire a student to finish school and pursue university studies.”

Disadvantaged students often don’t have access to adult role models who can offer guidance about career and study options. Being able to talk to mentors with broader professional experiences helps them to expand their horizons. Jan loves encouraging students to keep pursuing their education and achieve their best.

“I wanted to make an actual contribution to my student’s study, life and career choices. During the week I thought a lot about what my iTrack student had shared with me and how I could best assist her,” said Jan.

iTrack volunteer Jan

I want to be that reality check for my iTrack students. Is it worth it to pursue university studies? ‘Yes.’ Is it going to be tough? ‘Yes.’

“I will tell the students that I mentor that you need to knock on all the doors and not be shy to ask for support.

“Young people need to be able to speak up and ask for help. That is tough sometimes and I didn't do it myself. But I hope I can give young people that confidence and have them keep it for all time.”

Having had a long and successful career in education, Jan knows how important it is for students to have mentors outside their immediate circle. They feel free to explore ideas and concerns that they otherwise might not feel able to express.

“An external support provides a safe non-judgmental person who, with their own life experiences, can respond to questions and offer options and alternatives to career and study dilemmas,” said Jan.

“A mentor can simplify what can be an overwhelming experience for young people. Parents and teachers, whilst knowledgeable and caring, can often be seen by the young person as having an agenda.

“I like the safe place that iTrack creates for all of us – mentors and students. The training is good and relevant.”

Seeing her student blossom and recognise her potential has been very rewarding for Jan. And she looks forward to continuing her volunteer work with The Smith Family.

Being a mentor seems to bring together my passion to give back something to The Smith Family, while touching very closely on my own personal experiences. I have loved the experience.

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