When your mentor becomes family - CareSouth's Aunties & Uncles program

Leonie and Luke* have been linked through CareSouth’s Aunties & Uncles program for three years. The pair have forged a strong connection and now consider each other part of the family, but it took some time and some groundwork.

Leonie became an Aunties & Uncles carer after volunteering in an orphanage in Nepal several years ago. The electrician and TAFE teacher found the volunteer work incredibly fulfilling and began looking at ways to give back at home.

“My experience in Nepal made me think of kids here who need help,” said Leonie. “That inspired me to join a volunteer program when I came back, so I started researching the options and decided on Aunties & Uncles.”

Leonie was matched with Luke, who was 12 at the time of the link and still in primary school. Luke has an older sister whom he adores but she lives interstate. Leonie became a sister figure for the youngster, and while it took some time for the pair to find their equilibrium, once some ground rules were established, they quickly bonded. 

Leonie set boundaries and put routines and structure in place to help him prepare for his transition to high school the following year.

“Sometimes he thinks I’m a party pooper but by setting boundaries early in our link Luke understood that he can’t always be in control and that relationships are a two-way street built on trust and compromise.”

Support from Aunties & Uncles coordinators and ongoing training helped Leonie recognise early on the challenges many young people in the program have faced and the long-lasting impact this can have on their lives. But with the right tools, support and matching, a successful Aunties & Uncles link can make a huge difference to both the lives of a child and a carer. 


“When I started my link with Luke he was in primary school and since then he has transitioned to high school, so I’ve seen huge changes in him,” said Leonie. “I like to think that I’ve had a positive impact. I’m probably a bit stricter than what he is used to. I set some fairly firm boundaries around manners, morals, homework and things like that.”

Leonie has also helped to broaden Luke’s view of the world, given him opportunities to experience things he might not have otherwise, and encouraged him to step out of his comfort zone and try new things.

“One of our things would be having dinner together every week and Luke would get to pick what we ate, and it would be something different that he had never had before,” said Leonie. “It’s giving him exposure to different things that he normally wouldn’t have had an opportunity to do.”

One of the highlights of the link for Leonie and Luke was a trip to Jamberoo Recreation Park. A friend won a pass and gave it to Leonie so she could share an experience with Luke that many of us take for granted.

“For Luke, he thought it was the best day ever, he loved it,” said Leonie.

Fast forward two and a half years since the pair first met and Luke has grown into a mature, polite but cheeky young man. He has found a solid friendship group, plays volleyball at school and engages in after school activities. Leonie now feels like the focus is on spending quality time together rather than quantity.

“Now he tells me everything,” said Leonie. “We don’t see each other as much but he will call me when he wants to chat, and he tells me everything about school and his family. We are part of each other’s lives now.

Luke agrees.

“I love being able to connect to other kids (in the program) and I really enjoy Leonie’s company,” said Luke. “She is a really great person to me; she tries to help me in any way possible and I appreciate her.”

Leonie’s relationship with Luke also extends to his family.

“I have a very good relationship with Luke’s family,” said Leonie. “Every time I pick Luke up or drop him off, I go inside and have a chat to his family. They send me birthday cards and give me Christmas presents.”

Luke’s Dad can also see the positive impacts the program and his son’s link with Leonie has had saying: “It’s helped him by bringing him out of his shell, enabling him to socialise better with other people and to also help him forget about things that can upset him.”

When asked how Aunties & Uncles has changed Leonie’s life, she said: “I have an extra person who’s part of my life now. All of my friends and family know about Luke, everyone regularly asks me about him, and they all check in to see how he is going. It’s almost like I have a child they will check up on when they talk to me. It has definitely changed my life for the better.

“I would recommend the Aunties & Uncles program to anyone who is thinking about volunteering,” said Leonie. “Even if you think you don’t have enough to offer, you definitely do because it doesn’t have to be big things.

“Some of these kids just need someone to spend time with or someone to talk to. It doesn’t have to be a huge outlay of time or money, you don’t have to buy them things or take them places, just giving them a little bit of time is enough. I joined Aunties & Uncles because I just wanted to help someone, and I feel like I am doing that.”

*Name changed

To learn more about CareSouth’s Aunties & Uncles program, visit https://www.caresouth.org.au/our-services/auntiesuncles/. And if you’d like to enquire about become a volunteer carer for the program, give us a call today on 1300 554 260 or email info@caresouth.org.au