Building a future through mentoring

In April this year, more than a hundred children, along with junior and adult leaders, converged on Kids Camp Out (KCO) for a weekend of fun and fellowship. Many Uniting Church members  get misty eyed as they talk about their experience of KCO (previously known as KUCA); it is a  much loved event and eagerly anticipated every year.

KCO is open to primary-school campers with teenagers invited to attend as junior leaders. In a new development, as of next year, high-school graduates and other young adults will have an opportunity to participate in a KCO mentorship program.

Helen Haslam has been involved in KCO as a congregation leader, and her daughter, Naomi Haslam, has been undertaking an informal mentorship with craft leader, Margaret Johnston, for the past two years.

Helen explained that seeing her daughter’s experience with Margaret work so well over a two-ear period, she thinks that a formal program would benefit KCO and the young adults who have come through as junior leaders

“I see a benefit for young people, who often in our church communities are sidelined and seen as just there because their parents are there, to actually contribute to something they’re passionate about” she said.

That passion is the central component of so many people’s deep connections with KCO. Margaret has been involved with KCO for more than two decades. This year’s KCO was her last on the committee, as she will now focus her energy as a congregational leader.

“Each year it has its own special moments that people remember,” she said.

“It’s always been, in hindsight, a highlight of the year, but when we start preparing for the next one it’s kind of like ‘Oh, here we go again!’”

But people keep coming back regardless.

Janine McDonald, First Third project officer for the Uniting Church WA, said that the attachment former campers and long-time leaders feel is part of the reason for establishing a mentoring program.

“The beauty in it is they come for five, six years as campers, then they get to move on into the Junior Leader Program,” Janine said. “When they’ve had this 12-year relationship with this event being part of their lives, they want to continue on with that, contributing to that. So [mentorship] is an opportunity for them to do that.”

Janine also spoke about the practical benefits of a mentoring program for future leaders.

“It’s an opportunity for leadership development, but at the same time it is not just going to be on a committee, it’s being involved in, contributing towards, being part of a team and having that community with the other KCO leaders.”

Speaking about the possible longterm benefits of a mentoring program Janine said that sustainable succession planning is certainly important, but that continued involvement in, hopefully, a happy part of these young people’s lives and belonging as part of the community is also a major benefit of the program.

The question of the longevity of KCO can’t be ignored, particularly given the lengthy involvement of most of the current leaders. Janine has been involved for seven years and she is the newest member of the team.

Developing leaders is a serious consideration for the future. Margaret, Helen and Janine all agree that a mentoring program could be a significant step in establishing paths for new leaders to join the KCO team in long-term capacities, but that it is not a silver bullet.

At this early stage of development it is impossible to say what a mentoring program for KCO will look like long-term. However, Helen said young people are excited about taking on leadership roles at KCO.

“When you have a conversation with these kids who have been to KCO, they’ve been junior leaders and they are passionate about it continuing, they see the benefit, they see what it does and they want it to continue,” she said. “So giving them the skills and the adult guidance to continue is only a positive.”

For more information, contact Janine at janine.mcdonald@wa.uca.org.au or call 9260 9800.

Elaenor Nield

Top image: Junior leaders at the 2016 KCO

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