Life transformed thanks to Mirrors

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  • Cally Blankendal, left, with Mirrors mentor Tiffany Austin (Photograph supplied)

    Cally Blankendal, left, with Mirrors mentor Tiffany Austin (Photograph supplied)

  • Cally Blankendal, right, with Mirrors Mentor Alexis Bean (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Cally Blankendal, right, with Mirrors Mentor Alexis Bean (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Cally Blankendal only signed up as a Mirrors volunteer because she had to.

Her school in England required community service credits. She thought she’d be in and out in two weeks.

“Then my mom got an e-mail saying I couldn’t come back to school,” the 18-year-old said. “I hadn’t done well in my photography programme.”

Shocked, she cried her heart out. It was June 2016, far too late to enrol elsewhere for that September.

She turned to Joanne Woods, her Mirrors mentor in middle school, for help.

“I was a terrible kid back then and always getting kicked out of class for not paying attention,” Ms Blankendal said. “The school even sent me to an anger management programme, but it didn’t help.

“There was nothing going on at home, I was just an angry teenager. I was really impressed by her commitment to helping me. She cared about what I was thinking and feeling. We set goals like paying attention in class, or turning my homework in.

“I can’t say it was a complete cure, but it helped. While other students hid when their mentors came, I never did because of our relationship.”

Ms Woods advised her to apply for a full-time job at Mirrors, and helped her through the process.

“I had to do something for the next year while I found another school,” said Ms Blankendal. “I couldn’t just sit at home, and I needed to earn some money. I went through the application and interview process and got the job of junior administrator.”

She also joined Mirrors’ community programme for students aged 15 to 19.

“At first it was really hard to open up with other people and share my personal life,” she said. “But people in the group got to feel like family.”

It helped her to focus on some of her problem areas, such as asking for help.

“I definitely didn’t do that enough when I was at school,” she said.

The experience helped her realise that being kicked out of school was a blessing in disguise.

“I didn’t like what I was studying, so I didn’t put my all into it,” she said. “If I’d continued I would have been very unhappy.”

Mirrors helped her apply to other schools, and then find accommodation.

“This week I’m going back to school,” she said. “I got accepted to the University College of Birmingham in England.

“I’m so happy to be going back, and so grateful to Mirrors. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be getting on that plane.”

Thanks to Mirrors, she has a new interest in social work and is especially grateful to Ms Woods and another mentor, Tiffany Austin.

“They were constantly on me, and wouldn’t let me procrastinate,” she said. “I liked helping as much as I could. When I was in the community programme I loved seeing how they helped everyone.”

She’s now considering working for Mirrors when she graduates, or starting her own youth organisation and thinks a lot of adults are out of touch with today’s young people.

“I think it is important not to approach teenagers from a decades-old perspective,” she said. “You have to look at things from a 2017 viewpoint.

“I think that was part of the problem when I was young. My parents weren’t parenting towards the world I was growing up in.”

Mirrors holds volunteer information sessions each Tuesday at 12pm on the first floor of Global House, 43 Church Street. contact 294-9291 or visit

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Published Aug 16, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 16, 2017 at 7:15 am)

Life transformed thanks to Mirrors

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