On the surface, Xavier Bulger is your typical 12-year-old. The Mooroopna local loves fishing, cars, motorbikes, and is adjusting to life at high school.
But look closer and you’ll see Xavier is dealing with issues far beyond his 12 years. Xavier’s mum, Kristie, has terminal cancer. Since her diagnosis three years ago, he’s acted as her carer; helping out around the house when she’s too sick from chemo.
Xavier is one of 23 young people aged 8 to 25 from the Hume region who are part of the Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) Young Carer Mentor Program; connecting them with volunteer mentors who give emotional support, life skills and social opportunities.
Xavier’s mentor, Marion Craig (pictured above right), became a mentor to “give the kids a chance to have a bit of fun and move away from their situation.”
“My daughter in law, when she was young, had a very ill brother and there was a lot of focus on his illness from the family for many years, which did affect her upbringing.”
Young carers often face social isolation and depression, and drop out of school so they can care for their family member at home. Research indicates that, if not adequately supported, their own health and wellbeing can be seriously affected.
“Xavier was a little unsettled when I began mentoring him in September last year,” Marion said. “His mum was going through chemo and it was very unsettling for him, facing his future.”
Xavier’s mum Kristie (pictured with Xavier above left) says she’s seen a positive change in her son since his weekly catch-ups with Marion began.
“Before this he was a bit uptight and wound up whereas now he’s more relaxed and takes each day as it comes instead of worrying about the ‘would bes’ and ‘maybes’. He really enjoys his time with Marion.”
Xavier says: “we go out for bike rides, walks, fishing, sometimes we just do a few things around town. It’s good to get out of the house and is someone different to spend time with.”
He admits caring for his mum is sometimes “a bit hard”.
“Sometimes when they (my friends) go out doing stuff I can’t go because mum’s sick and I need to look after her.”
Kristie says she’s proud of her son, but it’s not the life she wants for him.
“A kid at his age shouldn’t have to do that (caring). His older brothers (pictured above left) are working to try and help me cover the bills, so everyone pitches in where they can.”
In April, Xavier was part of a group of five carers and their mentors who travelled to Canberra thanks to a $6,000 donation from Menzies Aviation.
Program coordinator Marion Rak says the group relies on donations and community support.
“The Young Carer Mentor Program is so grateful for donations from companies like Menzies Aviation. Money is usually a struggle for these families, most of whom are on benefits, and so the young people do not ask parents for spending money for themselves as they usually understand that Mum or Dad may have to say no and that is an embarrassment for them.”
There are currently 13 young people on a waiting list to be matched with mentors. If you would like to act as a volunteer mentor, or make a donation to the program, please call Marion on 0409 009 878.