Licence to thrive

05 December 2023
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Brisbane veterans are buckling up to make a difference in young peoples’ lives as volunteer mentors for the Salvation Army’s Drive for Life program.

Healing through helping 

Gaythorne RSL Sub Branch member Steve Jones was born into a family with a proud history of service. He knew early in life that he was going to follow their path into the Defence Force. 

“I went through cadets in high school, and joined the Army Reserves before I finished year 12. I signed up to the regular Army in 1990 and served for 15 years. I enjoyed my time in the Defence Force and had several overseas deployments towards the end of my career,” he says. 

Steve Jones in the Australian Army

Steve Jones (R) during service in the Australian Army

Steve left the Army in 2005 and later pursued careers in teaching and hydrogeology across Africa, Asia and Australia. However, about five years ago, he reached a low point in his mental and physical health that drove him to seek help. 

“Things weren’t very good at that time, so I saw Open Arms and was referred to a supportive network of specialists who helped me work on a lot of issues. An important part of this journey has been changing from a military mindset to develop my own identity,” Steve says. 

Now five years into his recovery, Steve gains satisfaction from giving back to others, both by studying psychology at university and proactively volunteering in his community. Most recently, he joined the Salvation Army’s Drive for Life program as a mentor.  

“About six months ago I was looking for additional volunteer work and saw that the Salvation Army was advertising [for Drive for Life], which interested me because the Salvos consistently supported us in the field with the Sallyman truck,” Steve recalls. 

“I thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity where I can give back to them’.” 

The power of mentorship 

Wayne Norford has worked for the Salvation Army’s Youth Outreach Service (YOS) for more than 12 years. Together with Justin Maher, Wayne coordinates the Brisbane chapter of YOS’s Drive for Life program. The program aims to help disadvantaged youth attain their provisional driver’s licence (or ‘P-plates’), while boosting their confidence and independence in the process. 

“I get excited about seeing young people succeed, and I haven’t seen a program that has been more effective and beneficial than this driver mentor program,” Wayne says. 

Veteran mentor with Drive for Life Salvation Army program

“Getting your driver’s licence is such a big milestone. Watching young people learn, build up their confidence and then achieve that licence is such a big step for them, and to be involved in that journey is really rewarding.” 

The program is structured so that young people first take lessons with a professional driving instructor, before being paired with a volunteer mentor who helps them log practice hours before they take their driving test. Wayne coordinates more than 20 mentors (including Steve) but says that they could always do with more as the program expands. 

“This program is reliant on good mentors. We’re not looking for experts; the most important thing that we’re looking for is people who can keep our young people safe and encourage them with a good attitude,” he says. 

“The mentors on our team are brilliant, salt-of-the-earth people and we are so grateful for all they do. Having them on the team and as friends is a blessing.” 

How veterans can help 

The Drive for Life program has recently received increased volunteer interest from veterans like Steve. 

“A lot of people who’ve served in the Defence Force have been challenged in very difficult and extreme environments, and therefore are able to empathise with these youth who are looking to achieve something in their life,” Steve says. 

Steve Jones Drive for Life Salvation Army program

Steve Jones as a Mentor with the Salvation Army's Drive For Life program

Ultimately, the mentor’s role in the Drive for Life program draws on teamwork, camaraderie and leadership skills, which are familiar to many veterans. 

“The ability to connect with the youth in this program is instrumental. We not only work on driving skills, but also developing their sense of self. Mentors look beyond their learner’s current circumstances to see potential for growth,” Steve says.  

“Being involved is hugely rewarding, especially when young people attain their licence, which opens greater opportunities in life for them.” 

Wayne agrees. 

“Most of us forget what we were doing when we turned 17, but most of us can remember what it was like when we got our driver’s licence. To see a young person take ownership of that and to be able to open a door for them to get to that point is very satisfying.”