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Speech on the occasion of [the] launch of the School Volunteer Program in the ACT.

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26 OCTOBER 2005

• Ms Carol Dearling, Manager, School Volunteer Program ACT • Ms Mary Porter, MLA, representing the Minister for Education and Training • Mr Brendan Smyth, Leader of the Opposition • Members of the Legislative Assembly for the ACT • Mrs Christine Gray, Chief Executive Officer, National School Volunteer Program • Senior officers of the Department of Education and Training • Ms Christine Pilgrim, Principal, North Ainslie Primary School • Mentors

• Ladies and gentlemen • Boys and girls

 Thank you for your warm welcome. Marlena and I are delighted to be here, and I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we're gathered on this morning.   Congratulations to the members of the North Ainslie Choir and Band; thank you for leading us so well in the National Anthem. You are a great credit to the school - keep up the good work.   During National Children's Week I could think of no finer community event to attend than the launch of the School Volunteer Program in the ACT.   I'm sure, Christine Gray will be as delighted as I about this occasion, to see that the hard work and planning by local volunteers, with the backing of the national School Volunteer Program based in Western Australia, has paid such superb dividends, and transformed a wonderful idea into a magnificent reality.   I like the ancient African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child". It really does teach an eternal truth, for no man, woman, or child can live in individual isolation.   We'd all like to think that in our era everyone has equal access to opportunities, that we all can access the good life by calling on others who will pitch in when things get rough. Regrettably, this isn't always the experience. Instead of 'community', we often find people retreating behind closed doors, oblivious to the well being or otherwise of their neighbours.   So what can we do to remove some of these obstacles and smooth the path, especially for youngsters?   The ancient Greek poet, Homer, got it right in his work, "Odysseus" when he wrote of "Mentor", the person to whom Ulysses entrusted the care of his son when he set out on the Trojan Wars.   Mentor has matured from an ancient mythical surname into caring action; into a support process that is recognised worldwide by communities, corporations, and public institutions. I particularly admire the effectiveness of mentoring with young Australians. Who would not want to show young people they are valued, that they belong, that they have a future?


Who would not prize programs that elevate academic skills, eliminate low self-esteem, reduce social isolation and open doors to choice, independence, to the maturing of interpersonal skills, to a better life?   Research funded by the United States Department of Education has highlighted the positive effects of mentoring, the most significant and well documented of which are improvement in young people's grades, school attendance and family relationships, and the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse.   I am sure the evidence of the School Volunteer Program, gathered over more than a decade, strongly supports those findings.   So what drives a mentor to become involved, to volunteer, to be generous with their time and to share knowledge with youngsters? One mentor has explained it this way: "I used to talk to other people about what was wrong with the world, and we always used to say that if somebody could just hold these kids' hands sometimes - not drag them along, but just walk along with them - maybe a lot of them would find their way."   What a terrific reward to engage with young people, to finally make the connection, and to sense their growing optimism and confidence.   Young Australians in their formative years deserve the very best we have to offer. Investment in educational and social opportunities is the key to helping young people who are at risk of 'slipping through the cracks'.   Ladies and gentlemen.   What is it about volunteering (and we have about 4.3 million of them in this country), that we so wholeheartedly admire? Perhaps it is the unpaid nature of the work which is so untypical in our highly market-driven environment.   Is it the fact that volunteering is willingly chosen and that it is powered by values and causes?   I think it is all of that, and it is also true to say that Australian voluntary service has in large part been borne from a long history of pride in self-reliance, where people tended to help one another, rather than ask for government or outside assistance.   Mentors. I see you all as magnificent examples in maintaining an Australian ethos of service above self; of assisting a fellow citizen or a youngster in need of a helping hand.   And that is why Marlena and I are delighted to be here with you today. Our message is a simple, but heartfelt 'thank you'. Thank you for the work you do, for the fine example you are to others and for the outstanding results you achieve.   Ladies and gentlemen. In the past two years I have spoken at length about a comprehensive national mentoring program in my speeches to national conferences, to regional and state meetings of service organisations and at almost every community event that Marlena and I have visited; and privately to political and community leaders.   I will continue to do all I can to continue raising public awareness of the extraordinary value of mentoring and to encourage many more Australians to become involved.   I congratulate Carol Dearling and her coordinating team, and a number of others - including Ted Rayment (now in Hobart but still supporting mentoring programs there), Mal Ferguson and other distinguished governors and members of Rotary Canberra.   It's the grassroots approach that I admire in those who offer themselves as mentors. I sincerely thank the many outstanding volunteers and supporters and all of you who give so much support and encouragement to mentoring. I for one appreciate that the sustained functioning of our society depends in large part on the contribution of caring people like you.


It is now my great pleasure to declare the School Volunteer Program ACT officially launched.