Tammy Bowman knows the hardships of being a young carer all too well.
As a 19-year-old, she cared for brother and sister as her mum battled brain cancer, then subsequently also her father, who struggled to cope when her mum passed away.
Fast forward 30 years and Tammy (above right) is using her experience to help other vulnerable young people as part of the Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) Young Carer Mentor Program.
Some of the carers supported by the program are as young as eight and have little family, community or financial support. Research indicates that if they are not adequately supported, their own health and wellbeing can be seriously affected. The mentor program links them with volunteer mentors who give emotional support, life skills and social opportunities.
For the last five years, along with caring for her own family and working full time, Tammy has volunteered as a mentor for two young carers in the Wangaratta region. This week she was awarded a certificate of appreciation from VMCH.
“Being a young carer changed my life. It made me go ‘internal’ and just close down. As a young carer, you don’t have time to worry about school, your friends, or your own feelings… you’re too busy paying bills, cleaning the house or preparing meals. I want to help these kids to just be ‘normal’ kids…to go for a coffee, go to the movies and have someone to confide in.”
One of Tammy’s young carers, also named Tammy, 19, has flourished under her guidance.
“When I met her five years ago she was barely going to school, was isolated and not interacting with friends. Now, done further study and has a good job, she’s so empowered and just a wonderful human being. We’re very proud of her, just like her own mother is.”
Tammy (pictured above left) says: “Tam is more than a mentor to me and always has been. She has supported me through really tough times and is someone that just ‘gets it’. Tam’s perspective, guidance and friendship is something I hold close to my heart. I am lucky to be where I am with my career, my relationships and how I view people and the world around me.”
VMCH Young Carer Mentor Program Coordinator Marion Rak says the impacts of caring as a young person can be serious. Social isolation, depression and dropping out of school to continue their caring role are common.
She believes the role of mentoring is simple, but its impact; immeasurable.
“Most of these carers just need some respite from their day-to-day responsibilities to enjoy normal things other young people do, like go shopping, go to the movies or kick the footy,” Marion said.
“Mentors are able to take the young carers out to places they would not normally go as the person they may be caring for sometimes does not drive or is not well enough. Importantly, the Mentor can become a friend and someone they can confide in to help relieve any stress from their home situation.”
Marion said she was currently seeking mentors for 13 young carers living in Seymour, Euroa, Heathcote Junction, Mooroopna, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Wodonga and Boweya.
Tammy urged community members to rally around their youngsters.
“There are so many kids out there alone now facing so many issues, including drugs and alcohol. Our (community’s) youngest suicide this year was 13 and we’ve just lost another 22-year-old. We as adults need to step up and support our kids.”
If you would like to act as a volunteer mentor, or make a donation to the program, please call Marion on (03) 5722 9046.