Teen mums Quanita Russo, left, and Phillipa Stevens are gaining confidence and life direction through the Leaving the Ladder Down mentor programme. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Hayley Gastmeier

Young mums are embracing their powers through a mentor programme that teaches resilience and leadership.

Nine mothers from the Masterton-based Teen Parent Unit have been taken under the wings of eight Wairarapa women in the Leaving the Ladder Down mentorship initiative.

Wendy Morrison. PHOTO/FILE

TPU students Phillipa Stevens and Quanita Russo, both 18, say they have benefited hugely from working with their mentor, Wendy Morrison, Mediaworks manager and marriage celebrant.

“She’s a doer,” Phillipa said, describing her mentor.

“She likes to get things done. Unlike me. I contemplate. I sit there … so I need a bit of Wendy in my life.”

Phillipa said she and Wendy meet every few weeks to discuss her goals and the steps she needs to take to achieve them.

The mother of two-year-old Tamati said she now had a lot more direction and better life balance.

She had also discovered strengths that she didn’t know she had.

“[I’ve learnt] a lot of self-worth and confidence in who I am and what I can do, and the potential I have to be able to do things.

“[Wendy] has taught me a lot of leadership skills, organisation skills, which keep me on track, and has opened doors for me.”

Phillipa had her first taste of being an MC at the Big Talks, Little Talks event – a fundraiser hosted by Women Who Make The Calls, who lead the Leaving the Ladder Down programme.

She co-hosted the evening with Wendy and said it was one of the “amazing opportunities” that had come her way since meeting Wendy.

“Being able to co-host with her was huge for me.

“[The] night went amazing. I was nervous but I was ready because Wendy had gone through everything with me.”

The event featured inspirational talks from former Silver Fern and netball coach Debbie Fuller, among other community leaders.

Phillipa said the themes discussed at the event were empowering for teenage mothers, who were unjustly stereotyped.

“There’s a stigma that society places on us for being young parents.

“I don’t believe it’s a setback.

“It makes our lives challenging but I don’t see it as a setback.”

The event was a fundraiser to enable The Women Who Make The Calls to employ a part-time co-ordinator for 2020 to ensure all TPU students benefit from a mentor.

Quanita was encouraged by Wendy to produce an artwork that represented resilience and leadership for the fundraiser.

Her beautiful portrait of a wahine toa (strong woman) sold for $600 in auction.

TPU manager Prue Smith chose the mentor/ mentee partnerships based on the young women’s strengths and what they lacked.

Quanita said being paired up with Wendy had been good for her.

“We’re definitely two different types of people, which is good because normally if I’m with someone who is like me – shy – we don’t talk to anyone. So, she makes me talk.”

At the event, Quanita even did some public speaking – something she never thought she’d do.

Wendy said working with the “two wonderful young ladies” had been a privilege.

“[They] continue to inspire me and often remind me to stop and look at myself at the same time of giving of myself – sharing my knowledge, life experiences and leadership skills with them as needed and required.

“I was extremely fortunate to have had some wonderfully inspiring mentors early on in my working career, one who continues to be available to me to this day in need.

“Surrounding yourself with family, friends and ever supportive people is important both in your personal life and working life as both bring their own challenges.”

Wendy said it was without hesitation that she said yes to aligning with the Leaving the Ladder Down mentoring programme.

“It’s a journey that I am totally enjoying.”