Former North Coast local, Cooper Cridland.
Former North Coast local, Cooper Cridland. ERIK SAWAYA

Mum says her late son treasured North Coast mentor program

A MOTHER has expressed her gratitude to a boys' mentor program in the wake of her son's tragic death in Fiji.

Nicole Cridland, the mother of the late Cooper Cridland, said Byron Bay's Uncle Project helped her son during the ups and downs of his school years when the pair lived on the Northern Rivers.

A talented ballet dancer, Ms Cridland said Cooper was sometimes teased at school for taking up what was stereotypically perceived as a woman's sport.

"Cooper was only a boy during this time and while he was a ballet dancer he was not out as gay although he was bullied at times at school for being 'gay' because he danced," Ms Cridland said.  

"It (The Uncle Project) gave Cooper the opportunity to hang out with boys at a time when that wasn't possible for him at school."

About 30 men volunteer with the Byron Bay Uncle project, which aims to reduces the isolation of mothers and boys by offering a range of activities for boys through fundraising efforts.

As a single mum, Ms Cridland said the project enabled her to provide Cooper with strong and supportive male role models.

"He also got to do a lot of things he wouldn't normally have experienced living with a single mum like building billy carts, fishing and other boy stuff under the guidance of good men who gave up their time to teach boys skills and to experience being around men and boys," she said.

There are about 30 men assisting the Byron Bay Uncle Project, which runs regular activities for the boys, as well as fundraising and adventure activities.

As the Uncle project in Byron Bay celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Uncle Project coordinator Chad Kolcze said the project had helped many boys over the years.

"I've had several phone calls from parents saying that they're (kids) are more helpful and polite," Mr Kolcze said. 

"There's that respect and friendship (in the program) , it's just pleasant and they build positive relationships."

Speaking to The Northern Star last year, he said the program works to "promote a model of responsible manhood among our local men and boys."

The relevance of the program is emphasised by statistics highlighted by Mr Kolcze about single mothers in the Byron Shire.

"Single-parent families, almost always mothers, make up a quarter of all families in Byron Shire, nearly 10% higher than the state average of 15%," he said.

"There's an undercurrent of society that sees it works."

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