BY James Farrell | March 22 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Building a city wise to Christian charity

James Farrell speaks to students in deprived areas of Glasgow for an Opus Dei-inspired venture

Each Wednesday after classes at Glasgow University, Victoria Chapman travels across the city to St Mungo’s Academy where she gives advice, mentoring and friendship to one of the school’s pupils.

Victoria is a 21-year-old student from Perth who is in her third year of volunteering with Citywise, a charity started 25 years ago in Glasgow by Xavier Bosch, a Catholic and member of Opus Dei.

The charity encourages university students to mentor young people to develop life skills, focusing not just on their academic abilities but also on the whole person.

It aims to bring university students out of their comfort zones by helping young people in deprived areas of Glasgow and Manchester, and the charity is now expanding its work into helping families as well as individual children.

As president of the Citywise Society at Glasgow University, Victoria is full of enthusiasms for the charity’s cause.

She first joined after deciding to branch out at university and hearing about Citywise from a friend. She approached them at the university Freshers Fayre and hasn’t looked back.

“I decided to sign up and I’ve received a lot from volunteering once a week. I now know a lot of people through it and really enjoy it and that’s why I’m still volunteering today,” Victoria said.

She explained that the mentoring involves focusing on four core values with children—resilience, self-control, good judgement and fairness—and that this results in ‘visible changes’ in the lives of those she helps.

“Last year I had an experience where my mentee opened up to me about something in their past,” she said.

“We have a lot of safeguarding training that we do in case of a situation like this, so I put that into practice in what was a high stress situation. Following those procedures helped that child in their personal life and even helped create a bond afterwards. You can see the result of a situation like that and the affect it has on the child’s health and wellbeing. You get to see that you actually made a change in a child’s life.”

She added: “Another example of when I’ve seen a visible change in a child was with a child who was really rowdy in the classroom and would be yelling and interrupting and really trying to take over the class.

By the end of the year we could see a big change in her. She ended up getting quite close with another pupil in the classroom.

“The mentoring brings together kids who don’t know each other otherwise in school. You can see that it helped her have good behaviour and find friendship.”

Citywise’s Catholic founder formed the charity with a vision that it could help both the children and the students, and Victoria said she had made many friends through the charity.

“When we are mentoring we are given points to discuss but we can also give our own input into that,” she said.

“We discuss strengths or skills that we have or even where we have failed in the past so that we can learn from that.

“A mentor really gets involved in the learning and it has enhanced my own sense of self as well.

“What I find quite fun is at the start of the year we do a class on growth mindset.

“It’s something I took a lot from, making sure you take a step back and seeing how your brain works so that you can continue to keep making progress.”

Citywise works in three different schools in Glasgow: St Mungo’s Primary, St Mungo’s Secondary and St Roch’s Primary.

The charity’s CEO Luke Wilkinson said student volunteers typically work one-to-one in a group setting for one or two years through an academic year in partnership with a school.

“This helps to establish and build a dependable relationship for the young person,” he said.

“Across that we’re working with 104 children who all receive one-on-one mentoring. We also run summer camps which are a lot larger.

“We work in collaboration with the schools who will know best which pupils would benefit from the mentoring. These pupils will be suggested and then given the opportunity to work with a mentor.

“In the youth groups we can give lots of encouragement and growth both in personal and professional skills from the ages of 8–18, to allow those children to develop the necessary life skills to help them be the best they can be.”

Those necessary life skills are inspired by the Christian foundations of the charity, and while open and proud of its Christian heritage, Citywise provides help to people from all backgrounds.

“We share a common vision which wants to see people develop holistically using the secular outlook of Christians,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“In fact our character strengths which we want to promote are based off of Christian virtues. Citywise is built on a Christian view of a flourishing life for the benefit of the common good.”

Citywise recently announced plans to expand their work beyond a school setting.

“What has been evident is that there is only so much you can do to help a child and in our setting it is only one area of that child’s life,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“We saw that it would be so much better to help the child if we helped the whole home.

“We won a lucrative grant from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California which will allow two years of pilot training, giving parental support in partnership with the schools which will nurture and develop parenting skills so that the child is given the best chance to excel.

“We aim to encourage parents with what they can do at home to help the child improve in all manners of their life.”

Student volunteers like Victoria are crucial in facilitating that improvement, and she speaks fondly of creating bonds with the children she mentors.

Recently, she helped organise a celebration of the charity’s 25th anniversary.

“We celebrated the fact that Citywise is still here 25 years later,” she said. “It’s an amazing feat.”


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