Allysha and Charmaine

Apprentice and master . . . Student Allysha Sinclair (left) with her mentor Charmaine Smigielski

By Paul O'Rourke

Volunteer learner-driver mentor Charmaine Smigielski developed a love of driving at age five in country NSW, and is still going strong more than six decades later.

“I had my first lesson on the farm tractor at five. I had to stand up to steer while my dad was throwing out hay from the back of a trailer,” Charmaine said.

“Since then I’ve always loved cars, driving and motorsport.”

Charmaine, from Latrobe, has a 100% success rate in teaching others to drive, including four novices through the Devonport Chaplaincy learner driver program. The program offers driving and life skills to those who cannot afford lessons or don’t have access to a car in which to learn.

Her current student Allysha Sinclair has clocked up about half the required hours and is feeling comfortable and confident she can get her provisional licence before her learner’s permit expires in June.

Allysha describes Charmaine as a friend; their relationship a partnership that goes way beyond learning to drive.

Not just about the driving

“We have great conversations about daily life, family, religion . . .

“I was very nervous and fearful when we started, but Charmaine was calm and took me through the basics. My confidence has grown to the point that I don’t worry any more.”

Allysha wants to get her licence to share the driving load with her husband, and to take their daughter, 12, on a girls’ weekend.

“We live in Roland, near Sheffield, and I am carer for my mum who lives in Devonport,” Allysha said.

Charmaine, who is also a carer for her husband, joined the driver mentor program to give back.

She has been a calm and constant presence in the passenger seat for five years, stopping only briefly for a few months due to health issues.

“I got involved after challenging a young man at church who had his motorcycle licence to get a car licence,” she said.

“Unfortunately he didn’t have anyone to teach him.

“He was my first student through the program although I also helped teach our two children to drive.

“He went on to get his licence and get an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.

“Every student is different. Some suffer from anxiety, others have learning difficulties or bad habits they have picked up along the way.”

Charmaine, who is a grandmother of five, is doing a church internship at C3 Devonport.