Shawn Tan, 31, is a coach at TOUCH Youth. When he was in his teens, he would join his friends in committing criminal activities like stealing and vandalising. Thankfully through adult intervention by his parents and teachers, he joined the Boys’ Brigade, and that changed his life for the better.
“At the age of 14, one of my Boys’ Brigade officers saw something in me that no one else saw. He gave me the attention, mentoring, and correction when I needed it,” Shawn mentions. This motivated him, and he grew to have a heart for the youths, and started mentoring teenagers at the age of 17.
When Shawn graduated, he got a job with the Singapore Police Force. Despite his hectic schedule as a police officer, Shawn never stopped serving the youth and was actively involved with youth mentoring work in his church. Moved by his passion for the youth, Shawn eventually joined TOUCH Youth as a coach, as he saw it as a platform to positively impact more young lives, just like what he received when he was in his adolescence.
“As a coach in TOUCH Youth, I connect with the at-risk youth, and stand in the gap for the youth who have no key adult figures in their lives to guide them. I act as that positive role model for them, and help these youths find their footing and their self-identity. I also aid them in growing to face the world with confidence.”
Being at TOUCH for four years now, Shawn has been through and learnt a lot about working with youths. He shares that the most memorable experience he’s had on the job was when he worked on a Timeout programme for youths who are disengaged in school. Timeout, a programme for secondary school students, is targeted at those who are not willing to attend and participate in lessons due to their family background and situation. These students have faced neglect and negative influences, and are often very inattentive and disrespectful to authority figures. It was a rough time of learning for Shawn, as it was difficult to meaningfully engage with the youths.
“The lesson learnt is that we must be client-centered in our work. We cannot do the work and implement the template of the trainings in the same way to everyone, thinking that it will work,” he says.
“I did not consider that in my early years of organising programmes, and the secondary 2 students who were under my care were totally disengaged with us. Many of them just walked around during the programme, and some even walked out! That was painful, as we knew how we would like to reach out to them, and we knew that understanding them first would help us enter their lives and show that we care, but we could not get to doing that.”
Without the connection with the students, it was difficult for Shawn to reach out to them, but he says that that experience was necessary in order for him to really understand the importance of this bond he needs to first have with the youths.
Work is very fulfilling for him, but it is not short of challenges.
“A challenge I constantly face is ensuring the mentoring programme is effective in helping the students, while taking into consideration the challenges on the ground. These challenges are mainly showing the youths that you genuinely care, and that you have their best interests at heart. Many of them are not able to get it so quickly because of their upbringing.”
Making sure a model and a framework for the programme is created to help them develop well, and have the right foundation to soar and excel in life is something that brings challenge and excitement to his work as well.
“While they easily give their trust, to inspire them to see their lives as worthwhile, and help them to grow and have their future in mind is an uphill challenge,” Shawn adds.
Today, Shawn runs the A.P.T.I.T.U.D.E youth centre at ITE College East, and continues to work with the next generation to bring out the best in them. He finds it very fulfilling when he has established deep connections with the students, and enjoys overseeing the process of the students growing up.
“My work at the Centre is like a parenting job. So, being able to find joy in connecting deeply with the students is needed to sustain myself through parenting so many teenagers every day.”
“It’s a great joy to be able to journey with the students, and watch them grow and mature after mentoring and spending the years with them.”
About TOUCH Leadership & Mentoring
TOUCH Leadership & Mentoring (TL&M) aims to inculcate values and skills through Service-Learning and facilitation to mentor youths to become active contributors and leaders in the community.
It conducts school programmes such as Compassionate Leader Always Serving Society (C.L.A.S.S), Service-Learning (S-L) and Student Leadership Challenge (SLC).
Besides school programmes, TL&M also has a student activities centre at the Institute of Education (ITE) College East, A.P.T.I.T.U.D.E (Aspiring People Transformed Into Uniquely Dynamic Exceptions). This is a collaboration with ITE College East that aims to impact the lives of students through interest group activities and vocational skills certification and competitions that will intentionally develop their passions and hobbies into strengths and skills with high market demand.