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8 November 2020
words lauren martin
Norman is a proud Indigenous young man from Moree in north-west New South Wales with boundless energy for sport. He has been connected with the Salvos since he was a toddler. At the beginning of 2019, Norman attended a Salvation Army camp and, soon after, he joined the ‘Deadly Diamonds’, a Salvation Army leadership development program.
“He came home [from camp] with a spring in his step, with an element of Christian faith in his life,” says Jason Poutawa, who leads the Salvos in Moree. “It was clear that there was a shift in his attitude, his attendance and willingness to serve. Norman became one of our head dance leaders and, through his leadership, boys that didn’t usually participate began to get involved.”
When he joined Deadly Diamonds, Norman was given the opportunity to pair with a mentor, which he readily accepted. He started meeting with Greg Bell, a local Christian and business owner, who took up Jason’s challenge of giving “one hour, once a week (or fortnight) for one year”, to mentor young people.
Jason Poutawa (left) and Steele Sutton (right) helping Norman (centre) pursue his dreams.
“This is what Jesus was all about – doing relationship with people,” says Greg, who, despite working nearly 12 hours a day, five days a week in a small business, sets aside his mentoring time in his diary and makes sure is he always there for the young guys that he has committed to.
“I pick them up and take them out for breakfast,” he says. “We meet in pairs. For young boys, having other men in their life that they can look up to, it’s really beneficial … that was the big thing for me,” Greg says, explaining that throughout his years in university he was mentored in much the same way. Now, “I can be a steady person [in the lives of young people like Norman].”
Norman has also connected with Salvos youth worker Steele Sutton, who engages young people in cycling activities. He introduced Norman to cycling, inviting him to participate in the Moree Cycling Project, which offers young people the chance to connect, have fun and race road bikes. The Salvation Army supports the project through providing transport to racing events and accommodation at local Salvation Army centres.
Norman fell in love with cycling instantly. “I like the training, it motivates me and I’m good at it,” Norman says.
He began training intensively and has competed in both NSW and Queensland.
“One day I want to be the first Aboriginal national champion cyclist,” says Norman. “I want to compete against the best in the world.”
It’s a dream that is supported and encouraged by his peers, teachers, relatives, the local media and business owners, and, of course, his mentor, Greg. “He’s a good kid with a lot of potential. He thrives on positive influence and guidance.”
In addition to mentoring Norman, Greg and his wife Rachel, who herself mentors a number of teenage girls through the Salvos Mentoring program, have included him within their family sphere. He regularly shares dinner in their home, has met their extended family and is embraced and celebrated.
In the two years since Norman began mentoring, he has been supported by his peers, mentor, the Salvos and the Moree community to buy a race bike in order to follow his dreams. With the blessing of Norman’s family, this Salvos support network of Greg, Steele and Jason also assists Norman with his health and wellbeing. They drive him to medical and other appointments and are there for him, even when things aren’t going great on his journey.
For Greg, mentoring and the extended support offered is where the “rubber really hits the road” when it comes to being a Christian. “Jesus called us to be with others and be in relationship. For me, it’s congruent with living a life of faith.”