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Helping youth change their lives

Community spirit: Mirrors volunteers Otis Nolan, left, and Antoine Lightbourne, right, with programme participant Raguel Dill, who praises the scheme for giving him more self-confidence (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Raguel Dill was 13 when he learnt he was a foster child. The revelation shook his world to its core.

“I became unhappy and angry at my parents most of the time,” the 17-year-old said.

“I had gone all that time convinced they were my real parents and then when they told me I was a foster child, I was like, ‘wow’.”

“For a while I would just come home and not want to be around them as much and just found any excuse to be out.

“It got to the point where I just wanted to feel better about myself and who I was and come to better terms with my reality. That’s why I signed up for Mirrors.”

Raguel heard about the self-development programme from a friend.

The government scheme, which launched in April 2007, provides training, mentoring and coaching to young people looking to transform their lives.

Raguel felt like he had nothing to lose and signed up.

“I went into the programme because I was really unhappy and angry at the world, and wanted to improve that,” he said.

“I was upset with my [foster] parents and I also resented my biological parents for not being in my life.

“My friend had already done the programme and I noticed he was different, so I said, ‘maybe I should try it for myself’.”

He started the six-day residential component of the programme and thought it was “complete c**p”.

But by the second or third day his opinion changed.

“The person that was running the programme, Mark Charley, had actually been through some of the same things that I had,” Raguel said.

“He had been moved from foster home to foster home and resented his parents at one point.

“Despite all that he was able to turn his life around. One day he just called me out on my attitude and just gave me a real talk.

“It was a wake-up call. I was like, man these people are really out here trying to help me change my life around so I might as well not hold anything back and give it my all.”

He has since developed more self-confidence and feels happier overall.

“People always say I have such a nice smile, but nine months ago you wouldn’t have caught me smiling at all,” the Berkeley Institute student said.

“I’m just not worrying about the past and trying hard to move on with the future.”

The teenager said the relationship with his foster parents had also improved a great deal.

“I can go home now with some kind of peace,” he said. “There were steps I did within the programme to build up my self-confidence. I set goals for myself and, week by week, I would do things and push myself to be more confident and put myself out there.

“I never used to speak to people and when it came to something like speaking out in class I wouldn’t do it because I thought, ‘what if I’m wrong about this or people judge me?’

“Now I say what I have to and if it’s right or wrong I take that feedback.”

His dream is to become a criminal defence lawyer.

“This programme kind of gave me a second chance and the fact that my foster parents loved me and took me in from my family that was another second chance,” Raguel said.

“I’ve learnt that everyone has a chance to change their life around if they’re given the opportunity, so I want to give people that opportunity as well through law.”

One of the perks of the programme has been building a strong bond with his mentor Antoine Lightbourne.

“He’s a lawyer and I want to be a lawyer. We also have TV shows that we both like to watch. It’s just a great connection,” Raguel said.

Mr Lightbourne said he was “really proud” of the progress the teenager has made.

“I believe the biggest thing we can do for young people is show them unconditional love and with that they listen more and take the guidance more seriously, but only if they think you genuinely care.

“Raguel is a lot more confident than he was. He’s been in a school play and serves as captain of his rugby team and is taking leadership roles at his school. He had done three overseas trips with the rugby team and was even named MVP on the last one. He also tried out to become a prefect and was given that role for the upcoming school year.”

• Government’s Mirrors programme is looking for volunteers for training programmes next Friday, Saturday and Sunday and November 6 to 8. Young people can volunteer for the next session, starting on November 14, by e-mailing mirrors@gov.bm or by calling 294-9291.