70. Nancye Harrison

25 Sep

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Nancye is positively full of energy as she talks about her work for and with young people. The more I hear, the more I find myself sharing Nancye’s enthusiasm about the importance of helping them stay engaged in education and employment pathways, and making services for young people more supportive and accessible. Her passion for the young people in our community is heartening and it’s inspiring to witness.

For Nancye, it all began in the classroom. Despite her father’s hopes of an accounting career for Nancye, she headed into teaching because she “couldn’t picture herself sitting in an office everyday crunching numbers”.

“I just thought, I love teaching, so maybe I could make it interesting for other young people!” she says.

It seems an open-minded outlook comes naturally to Nancye, as she talks to me about readily adapting her teaching style to the needs of the kids she taught.

“In my first year out of university, I went to a school in the Northern suburbs. I was going to teach like I was taught, in an academic environment – only, English wasn’t [the students’] first language. It was a big shock to me. Not everybody learned by opening the textbook and doing the questions,” Nancye says.

“I really liked the kids, so I totally rejigged the way I taught and made it more engaging,” she says.

Nancye was also eager to “give something else a go” and spent some time in the hospitality industry, then worked for a recruitment agency. However, Nancye soon decided to go back to teaching. At her next job in Coburg, she found herself teaching students from an array of diverse backgrounds.

“It was pretty amazing, pretty interesting,” Nancye says.

“Again, I had to work out how to change my teaching so everyone there had an opportunity to learn because there were big extremes in ability, disadvantage, all sorts of things. So it really became my mission to make sure everyone had an opportunity to do well.

“And to do that, I think, is actually much more rewarding. You inspire those who are academic to do better in those pursuits and for those who are applied learners, you give them an opportunity to learn as well,” says Nancye.

Eventually, this school was closed so Nancye moved to Montmorency Secondary College, becoming the VCAL Coordinator.

“It was awesome!” she tells me.

“I am just amazed at what those young people achieved and still continue to achieve.”

“I’m still in contact with a lot of those students,” Nancye says “Through social media, I’m able to check up on them! Even though they are not my kids, I feel good because I had a bit to do with that, for some of them.”

Nancye’s eagerness to expand the opportunities of young people has led to her becoming Executive Officer of the Banyule Nillumbik Local Learning and Employment Network (LLEN), where she has helped “set up their Workplace Learning Program, so that our kids get experience in industry while they’re still at school”.

“These days, I don’t actually work with young people and I miss it a bit! But I have to be satisfied that what I do makes a difference to young people,” says Nancye.

“I bring people together to make a difference. By bringing people together, through collaboration, the output should be greater. Working with 25 kids in a VCAL class was awesome! It was very satisfying, but here I can bring community agencies and schools together and – hopefully – we’re having an impact on hundreds of kids.”

“Schools are great at being schools, parents are the experts in their own kids, we have industry experts who know what’s going on in their industries, we have the government having a guess about what’s going on! So we’re partnership brokers. If we’re able to bring them together and then share that expertise with schools, with parents and with community, then hopefully we can get some programs up and running that support kids to transition to their next step.”

According to Nancye, industry-based learning is important because “research shows that those who are engaged in education and training will have better long-term outcomes in terms of employment, ongoing employment and earning capacity”.

“We need to look at how we help young people who are experiencing some disadvantage to transition. School can be very supportive. What do you do when you leave school? We need to look at how businesses and schools can come together to support everybody,” says Nancye

Last year, a major event the LLEN helped facilitate was the ‘R.O.K’ (‘Reengage Our Kids’) Forum. Community agencies, youth workers and representatives from schools were amongst those who gathered to discuss challenges preventing students from engaging in education and to devise practical methods for improvement.

“That was really well received. This year, we’re filtering through that information and looking at what we can put in place to help those young people. Some of the information is being funnelled into the Banyule Nillumbik Youth Services Network and they will work on some projects,” says Nancye.

Nancye also chairs the Banyule Nillumbik Youth Services Network, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

“It’s so important because, like the LLEN, it’s all about that collaborative effort and it’s about supporting those who, at the grassroots, are working one-on-one with young people who could be really doing it tough and need support,” says Nancye.

The Network has been responsible for some important initiatives, such as research into youth homelessness.

“Because we don’t see kids on the street here, people aren’t often aware that homelessness is an issue. We have huge numbers of kids couch-surfing, kids in their cars, or kids sleeping in other people’s garages. But you can’t stay on someone’s couch for a month.

“We are advocating to State Government to bring resources to Banyule and Nillumbik, to help us with this homelessness issue. We would like to see increased access to crisis accommodation, separate for both boys and girls so they are safe. That resource is very limited… If they have to move into the city, they may have to be in shelters with adults, where other types of harm might become an issue,” says Nancye.

Nancye and the networks she is a part of are working towards some truly wonderful changes in youth services. In particular, Nancye emphasises the importance of wrap-around services that can cater to the diverse needs of young people.

“We can have better communication and links between services – the government can help with that,” Nancye says.

“If someone goes to a service like headspace and goes there to talk about a mental health issue, well if they also at that time specify they’re having trouble with housing, then they should only have to tell their story once. All the services should be networked together so they can work together to solve those sorts of problems.”

Nancye leaves me some final words that convey a strong message of support for young people.

She says, “I think the other thing that has to happen – and youth services can help with this – is celebrating young people. The way we talk about young people has to be positive. Our policies need to be more positive about young people because I have seen – just from teaching young kids – that if you give them some self-esteem, some belief and some support, great things happen.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Luca Johns

 

 

 

 

 

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69. Maddie and Grace

21 Aug

B100 Grace MaddieIt’s almost impossible to get a word in when you sit down with Maddie Russell and Grace Britton, and listen to them talk about their passions

In the last two years, the duo have added a long list of successes to their resumés, all while completing VCE at Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC) in Heidelberg.

And it all began for them in late 2014, when the then year 10 students were nominated by their teachers to participate in that year’s Banyule Youth Summit.

“We got an email from our Vice Principal saying our teachers had recommended us to take part in the Summit,” Maddie said.

“They asked for students who had great ideas and could articulate them well, and we’d always been pretty vocal at our school, and had good awareness of what was going on.”

Maddie and Grace found themselves on the Gender Equality and Life after School discussion tables at the Summit. They said they were incredibly inspired by the discussions that were had.

“It was really important to talk to people who were our age and were dealing with the same issues as us,” Grace said.

“It meant that we were more conscious of the world around us, and it gave us a taste of what we should look out for.”

They both said it was eye opening to hear about the inequalities other young women faced at their own schools.

“We went to a girls’ school, and tended to hang out with people who went to single sex schools, but things are really different for students of co-ed schools, so it was really interesting to share those experiences,” Grace said.

But they both agreed that it was important for the discussions to be constructive.

“It’s all well and good to be angry about something, and everyone on the table was, but you can’t just sit there and say ‘it’s so unfair’ without doing anything about it,” Maddie said.

“Activism is about more than just sharing articles and starting fights on Facebook, you’ve got to focus on being productive and finding solutions.”

And that’s exactly what the girls did.

In conjunction with some of their fellow OLMC students ( Laura Cecconato, Frances Biggar, Eliza Pinner, Julia Melitsis), Maddie and Grace created Life Hacks, a how-to guide for young people that focuses on life skills that aren’t usually taught at school.

“We identified that there was a gap in knowledge that schools weren’t teaching students, so young people were leaving school lacking skills that they needed in the real world,” Maddie said.

“We thought implementing a program into schools might be helpful, but that would have involved a lot of time and resources, so the booklet was the next best idea, because it was a starting point, and could lead young people to other resources if they needed them.”

They said they were impressed by how quickly things eventuated after the Summit.

“We identified the areas of concern, taking out loans, mobile phones, rent and houses, sex education, and more, and the Banyule Council just took the ideas and made the book,” Grace said.

“Not long after, they came and told us it was done, and we were like ‘what the hell, that was so quick’.”

The Life Hacks book was launched at an assembly at their school in 2015, an experience the girls described as “unreal”.

“That was the first time we actually realised how legitimate it was,” Maddie said.

“We thought we’d just be sharing ideas at the Summit, we didn’t realise it would actually eventuate into something like this.”

And the girls didn’t stop there; they were influential in the startup of a feminist collective at their school at the end of 2015.

“It’s only been going on for a year, and is only in the starting phases, but we just wanted to get it off the ground,” Grace said.

“We met fortnightly, and organised a fundraiser, and just had discussions about sexism, and other related topics.”

Grace said the group attracted a wide range of students.

“We had some younger girls join the group, and they were really engaged and interested,” she said.

Two years after they first took part in the Banyule Youth Summit, Maddie and Grace took on a new challenge.

The girls volunteered as facilitators at the 2016 Banyule Youth Summit, where they guided the conversation, and helped inspire those younger than them.

“Our first Summit, we just came and spoke about what we were passionate about, but at the most recent Summit, we got to sit back and listen to what these young people had to say,” Grace said.

“We got to show them what came out of us participating in the Summit, and hopefully that inspired them to get involved.”

Both girls did extremely well in their VCE studies, with Maddie getting accepted into a Bachelor of Science at The University of Melbourne, and Grace getting accepted into a Bachelor of Global Studies at Monash University.

They said they plan to continue speaking out about what they’re passionate about, and encourage other young people to do so too.

“Don’t be afraid, people are interested in what you have to say,” Maddie said.

“If you have issues you’re passionate about, you should definitely stick up for them.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter

68. AWAG – African Women’s Action Group

2 Aug

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As I sat down on a comfortable cushion and sip my deliciously spicy traditional Somali tea, I found myself surrounded by the warm smiles of the young women of the African Women’s Action Group (AWAG). They had a stall at the 2016 Banyule Youth Fest. It was decked in colour, overflowing with artwork depicting the henna tattoos they were creating for visitors. Tea and biscuits were in abundance and their good cheer was infectious.

Omayma, who has been a member of the group since its beginnings when she initially “fell in love with it”, told me that the group was formed as a way for young Somali Australian women living in Banyule, to come together and help enhance their sense of community and inclusion.

In today’s world, many women who wear the hijab face discrimination and persecution. This forms part of the reason why the young women of AWAG are eager to share stories at the festival about the positive work of their group, to counter such negative stereotypes.

When asked whether her hijab has resulted in negative judgments from other people, Omayma said, “Personally, I have not experienced discrimination. But I know other girls have, yes. I remember hearing a story about a friend who had been asked why do you wear a tea-towel over your head? I was shocked.”

As explanation for these comments, Omayma emphasised how spreading awareness is vital.

“A lot of people just don’t know what it means to wear hijab. It’s all about how people grow up.”

“We are spreading the word about what it means to be African. The group is really peaceful and we hope to share the message that it’s important not to categorise us with a small minority.”

Omayma also said “Some of the really positive things we’ve been doing include basketball tournaments, henna workshops. We think fitness is really important. For us, we do cover up… but we still want to be active and to take care of ourselves.”

Last year, AWAG organised an African Basketball Tournament, as well as working on making a gymnasium accessible for African women.

***

Aisha is a youth worker who is a part of AWAG. I get a chance to chat to her at a later time and even away from the vibrant atmosphere of the Youth Fest stall, Aisha visibly lights up as she talks about the work she does with AWAG. Just like Omayma, Aisha is proud of how AWAG is making sporting and fitness facilities available for girls and women.

Aisha became a youth worker because, she says, “I had grown up as a young Muslim woman in Australia myself and I guess I could have done with a role model or someone who had that experience, to help me out in my youth”.

“AWAG came about because there were a lot of Somali women in the Banyule community, but there wasn’t really a voice … or really anything happening for the Somali girls. There are a lot of recreational opportunities for the young Somali boys… but there haven’t been those opportunities offered to girls,” Aisha says.

“There are girls sports teams they can join, but nothing that would accommodate their faith as well, spaces where they could go and be comfortable to take off their hijab.

“[It’s important] to give them those opportunities to have those recreational activities where they feel comfortable. That is what we’ve been doing,” says Aisha.

Aisha has fond memories of helping to organise a weekly basketball event at an indoor court.

“Everyone would chip in what they could to hire out a court, and we would then just get plastic sheets and cover up the windows!” Aisha says, with a laugh as she remembers these makeshift facilities. “So then everyone was comfortable to take off their hijabs and really get into it.”

“Organising small things like that gave me the energy to want to… do it on a bigger scale, where it becomes normal and we don’t have to put up plastic sheets on the windows and it’s a normal thing for Muslim women to want to hire out a court and have those facilities available to them.”

Aisha said they are starting to see this happen now, with connections to the local leisure centre enabling women’s-only gym sessions on Sundays.

“It’s been received really well by young and older women! It was funded for a couple of hours a week at first, as a trial and it’s been really successful. They’ve had the gym packed out. They haven’t seen it like that in years.

“The numbers were kind of crazy – it was like sixty odd women in the gym in the first few weeks! Now, it’s not as much but it’s still a really good amount every week. That showed everyone that there is a demand and a need in the community,” says Aisha.

“We have other long-term plans like that, for accommodating Muslim women in these spaces.”

According to Aisha, “the Banyule Council has been really accepting of that and wanting to do as much as they can to accommodate the needs of the Somali community. They are respectful of the culture as it is, as well. [There is an understanding that] the needs are different for the boys and the girls, which has been really good.”

Aisha reflects on the upbeat and inclusive vibe of Youth Fest, saying that AWAG’s participation in the event was simply “the best”.

“It was nice to just be there with all the girls. There were a lot of people who … did not expect the Somali community to be at Youth Fest.  To have that [positive] response there and get in really cool conversations with people and sort of break [down] barriers, even in a really small way, was really good,” says Aisha.

“It felt like the start of something that maybe hasn’t happened before in this area. Most people were just really accepting and loved seeing the diversity that was there at Youth Fest.”

In the future, Aisha wants to continue working with young people and, in particular, young girls. She hopes to encourage them to pursue their dreams, no matter their religion or background.

“I want to inspire young girls to be able to go as far as they want in any career, to be proud and accept themselves for who they are, to be proud of their religion, their culture and their heritage and to not feel like it will stop them from getting anywhere or [making] the life choices they want to make,” Aisha says.

AWAG is certainly an avenue for making this a reality, with leadership training opportunities for its members.

“We do some leadership work with the young girls too, trying to inspire them and connect them to women who have gone through what they are going through and who have achieved lots [whether it be] at uni, or after they’ve graduated and are working,” says Aisha.

“The idea of AWAG is for the girls in AWAG to advocate for the rest of the young women in the broader Somali community. They themselves may go on to inspire younger girls.”

The young women of AWAG are impressive in their ability to handle whatever life throws their way and are spreading a message of empowerment. According to Omayma, one tricky issue can be dual nationality.

“Culture is a really important thing for me – but sometimes it’s confusing being raised in a Western culture… I stay true to myself. Just be who you are and I think it’s ok to take what you want from your culture as well as the society you live in.”

“To any girl who is afraid of wearing the hijab, go out and do it if you want. Be strong. Stand up for your beliefs.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

67. Skye Lacy

5 Jul

Skye

In a mere 17 years, Skye Lacy has managed to contribute so much to their school and community. Skye is agender, using they, them and their pronouns. They are an open, engaging and passionate person who attributes their journeys in the past few years and into the future to a wide variety of influences and a person who finds meaning in helping others.

But as Skye says coming to where they are today has been a long and arduous process, beginning when they moved to Victoria from Emerald Beach, a small town on the central coast of New South Wales before moving to Victoria in 2014.

“When I was younger, I had no idea about the world,” Skye says.

They describe moving from a town with “3000 max” people to 4 million as a shock, especially as they had never been exposed to the LGBT community before – something that is now an integral part of their life. They recount using slurs frequently, not knowing what they meant.

“Even when I go back there now, my friends say stuff like ‘that’s so gay’ and it’s confronting,” they say.

Skye cites Minus 18 – an organisation dedicated to LGBT+ youths – and their school counsellor as two things that opened their eyes “the world beyond what [they] knew” and their own gender and sexuality.

They recount becoming aware of sexuality before gender, coming out as bisexual first.

“I vaguely use pansexual now but I go out with whoever I want to go out with at the time,” they laugh.

“Gender came a few years after that, around the time that I cut all of my hair off and started wearing whatever I actually wanted to wear. My views on the binary genders changed to more than just male and female.”

Skye identifies as agender, meaning that they do not associate themselves with being male, female or both.

“If you’re thinking about a line as a spectrum [of male and female], draw a little dot away from the line and that’s of where I am,” they say.

As Skye began to realise and understand their gender identity, they came out to their family.

“My parents are really accepting so coming out to them was really easy and my sister, coming out to her was really easy as well.”

Skye recounts that coming out to others wasn’t as easy though as they were “forced out” of the closet.

“I wouldn’t say that it was a coming out story for the ages or anything but I told a couple of people that I was bisexual (which is what I thought I was at the time) and the next day the entire school knew… It was confronting having everyone know and having that vulnerability thrust upon me but I was at a point in my life where I thought ‘I’m just going to take this in my stride, I’m just going to deal with what I have been dealt.’”

Skye regards coming out and developing confidence in your identity as a long process that they are still going through.

“It’s been years of challenging my ideas on the world. It’s been years of people challenging me for who they think I am and who I think I am. It’s been years of facing stereotypes and years of facing judgement.”

Skye began to work with Banyule Youth Services’ Rainbow Space (formerly known as Queer Sphere) around 2 years ago, attending the weekly/fortnightly meetings, although with a busy year 12 work-load it is difficult for them to attend as regularly now.

Skye has run workshops for the Rainbow Space with other group members. In 2015, they ran one of the first IDAHOT day workshops but Skye says that it wasn’t as successful as they all hoped it would be.

“We tried to cram too much into one day,” they explain.

“The year after that, we did a poetry workshop which is probably still to this day probably one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done in terms of poetry,” Skye says, adding that they go to live poetry events now as they love it.

“It was really interesting and what [poetry] people came up with on the day was so diverse. It was still a small group but it was such a diverse group of people.”

“We’ve made Banyule a safer space in the 3 years I was there. I know it’s been running longer than that but just in the three years I was there we’ve done so much for the community and I just can’t begin to imagine what we can do in 3 more years.”

As well as being an agent for change in a community space, Skye has been an integral member Viewbank College’s Stand Out group as part of the Safe Schools Coalition. After Skye first came out, they contacted a teacher at the school to put up anti-homophobia posters around the college. The teacher later contacted Skye to ask if they would be interested helping to create a group for LGBTQ+ students, an offer that Skye quickly accepted in the hopes of helping other students like themself.

“If I can do anything, it’s helping people – that’s what I love to do,” they say.

“2015 is when we officially came together as a group and I don’t think we had a name for a very long time. It was just me, Mr Murray and Ms Moss for about six months with the help of [school counsellor] Rose [Gray] with Ms Craze [principal] coming occasionally.”

“We went to our first pride march in January 2016 with a school banner and around 30 people, which was really awesome. We ran our first IDAHOT day [at the school] which by all means was like the first Rainbow Space IDAHOT day – too much stuff on one day. This year’s IDAHOT day ran a lot smoother,” they say.

At this year’s IDAHOT day, there was a pledge against homophobia and transphobia printed on a large canvas that was signed by the whole school, students and teachers alike. The pledge now hangs on the wall of the school library where is can be seen by everyone.

“That being signed by the whole school is a great thing to be left behind and doing Pride again this year with double the amount of people [than last year] shows how far we have come, especially with our principal marching with us in the first year,” Skye says.

“Having the head of the school marching with you at the Pride March is such an awesome experience and having people shouting things from the side-lines, like ‘yeah, Viewbank College,’ [is great because] schools are so well received and there aren’t many schools there,” they explain.

Skye has also recently been fundamental in Viewbank College’s decision to un-gender the school uniforms.

“That started with me around the time I was coming to terms with who I was in terms of gender. I started asking Rose (school counsellor) and the assistant principals if I was allowed to wear the shorts and every time I got told no. Not particularly by Rose, who was very supportive and probably one of the main reasons why I was so comfortable with being ‘out’ at school. It was being knocked back for about 2 months but [the issue] was finally pushed to Ms Craze’s desk and she said yes. I remember being pulled out of class, into the science corridor and Rose was there and she told me I was allowed to wear the shorts to school. It was one of those moments that doesn’t really sink in until later so I was walking home from school and I started crying,” Skye recalls.

“From there I began seeing more people around the school wearing shorts and I thought ‘this is awesome’. It wasn’t just guys, everyone was allowed to wear shorts. That moment of pure relief that I felt really motivated me, I wanted it for everyone.”

“When the Stand Out group began talking about wanting to change the uniform I was like ‘yes, let’s really try.’ I remember Ms Moss creating a Google Doc for us to put our arguments in and she was expecting dot-point arguments and I remember going in there and writing out an entire 1000-word essay on why we should have ungendered uniforms at school, and what that would mean in terms of physical activity and relief, I included as much as I could to make it persuasive – I looked at my persuasive techniques for English,” they laugh.

The petition was then sent to one of the school’s two assistant principals who passed the motion immediately.

“It was really relieving, her saying ‘you’ve done it, we’re changing the uniform.’”

“It was another one of those moments. I went home and called my mum and dad and said ‘listen, look at what I can do.’ It was like I was leaving something behind that everyone else can use. The next step is getting it formally published. We were all ready for a fight and the fact that it came so easily has us on edge as it hasn’t been announced yet.”

Skye cites their biggest achievement as “working hard towards something” but they have small achievements on a day to day basis.

“It could be getting 3 hours of study done without stopping, which is a great achievement for me considering how much my anxiety [can] affect my life.”

“[The ungendered uniforms] stand out as my biggest achievement for the school,” Skye says.

They also do other volunteer work outside of school for Arts Project Australia, a non-profit organisation and gallery that showcases the art of artists with intellectual disabilities. They have been volunteering there for two years, going in on every Saturday from 10am to 12pm.

“I go there and I help with everything that the two workers can’t cover at that time, whether that be assisting artists in getting paper, cutting paper, cutting out something, printing things, cleaning their workspace, getting paints, et cetera.”

This volunteer work has helped Skye to realise a future career path – Art therapy, saying that it is combining their two favourite things, “art and helping [others].”

“It’s not highly paid… it’s not the profession you go into if you want to earn a lot of money, it’s a profession that you go into knowing that you’re going to benefit the world around you. That pretty much explains the kind of person I am.”

Skye says that their volunteer work at Arts Project has taught them many things, like human differences.

“Everyone is the same, everyone just wants love and acceptance, everyone just wants humanity shown to them. I think my idea of disability and LGBT has changed so much having done the things that I have done and having met the people I have met. My acceptance of difference is probably a lot higher than other peoples are.”

Words: Eloise Derrett

Photo: Luca Johns

 

 

66. Liz Wyndham

15 Jun

DSC_0206Liz Wyndam is the community engagement practitioner at headspace Greensborough. As I chat with her in one of the light, airy rooms of the headspace HQ, I discover that her passion for her job of “providing young people with real, practical, relevant information” concerning well being is absolutely infectious. She explains how young people “energise” her so much in the social work field, as they provide a “beautiful mix of challenges, resilience, hope and energy.”

She illuminates me as to how the strength and dedication of young people is sometimes “understated” or perhaps not considered enough by people. She loves being able to change this in her job by helping to bring “resources together in the community (and) taking people’s creativity and helping make (their projects) work.”

Liz has undoubtedly had quite the journey to reach the buzzing career she has now. There is an air about her as she delves into her past as a younger social worker and juvenile justice worker.

A significant moment in her life is when she moved to Perth to help facilitate local as a family support worker. This is where she developed her niche, her passion for community development work and assisting young people with “complex support needs.”

Some of the young people that helped Liz nurture her creative side were the young custodians of the Parkville Youth Justice Centre. “Working in that structured environment can be a challenge…it makes you explore your options in terms of creativity.”

Sometime later, she began to add her spin to the Banyule Youth Services, where she was drawn to since “young people inform the heart and direction of the programs,” and everyone “uses their skills in the best way.” Liz proves to be no exception!!

In terms of what she has learnt in the field, she iterates to me that “humans can do horrendous things to each other,” so that’s why it’s important all young people have “a safe space…unconditional positive regard, (and to be) aware of the support around them.”

When I ask, tentatively, what Liz does when faced with some of the serious and difficult aspects of her youth work, her smile does not falter as she declares “keep perspective, check in with yourself, and then journey on.”

For young aspiring youth workers in university and high school, Liz advises: “find a mentor, there’s no need to have all the answers, practise self-awareness and compassion to challenges in the workplace.”

When I ask her for any final sentiments, she says “young people are brilliant. They explain stuff to me- help me stay relevant. It’s the best job in the world.”

Words: Taylor Carre-Riddell

Picture: Jason Rohmursanto

 

65. Barb Collard

15 May

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Barb’s journey to where she is today

Barb Collard has always had a strong inclination to help and support others, which eventually lead to social work. Barb is now a passionate, seasoned veteran in her profession, with next year marking 31 years of doing social work.

“As a uni student, I worked in aged care doing dishes and that sort of thing, so I was heading towards a helping profession. Social work seemed to fit the bill,” Barb says.

In the early days, Barb says she was unsure about which pathway was right for her. After tossing up between a career in teaching and work in the Allied Health Field, Barb says she decided to chat with some social workers, who were working alongside her mother in local government.

“I actually went in Year 10 to talk with them about the work they were doing. That was really useful,” says Barb.

Around this time, Barb also became involved with voluntary youth work with some weekly youth groups and state-wide camps, which helped seal the deal when it came to social work.

After completing her HSC, Barb went to Monash to do a Bachelor of Arts and then a Bachelor of Social Work. She says she finished university at quite a young age, around 23, deciding not to take any gap years.

Now, Barb is “a trained social worker and family therapist”.

“For the last 15 years (and I’ve had some other jobs alongside this), my main job has been the Mental Health Promotion Officer at the Austin, in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS),” says Barb.

“It’s a role that is based around community development principles, but the Austin CAMHS, as we are known as, work with young people under the age of 18 who have mental health issues,” Barb says.

Barb’s role involves strengthening referral pathways and working with families, carers, schools and young people to connect them with the supportive services offered by the Austin CAMHS.

“Often we do a lot of work directly with schools and wellbeing staff … So in some ways I am doing a lot more community engagement work than, say, counselling. I also do education around child and mental health issues to schools and agencies.

 “It’s a great job because it’s really broad. Because I’ve been at the Austin for around 20 years now, I have a long history and I also know a lot of people in the networks these days,” says Barb.

Barb’s career highlights

“I always loved working with children and teenagers. I have sort of specialised in working with children, adolescents and their families throughout [my career],” says Barb.

“What I like about [this] is you can see change. I am quite passionate about trying to assist with change and giving opportunities or [providing] support. You get a lot of satisfaction or feedback when you are connecting with children, young people and their families.

“Having children myself now, you realise how challenging it is to be a parent and bring up kids. Not that I think I would change anything I would have done in my twenties or thirties before I had kids, but there is another level of empathy that I see with my middle age,” Barb says.

When I ask Barb about her achievements, the first topic that Barb mentions is how proud she is of the young people she has worked with throughout her many years in the field, as this is clearly where her priorities lie.

“When I was doing case management, there were a few stories around individual young people that would really touch you and you see change through the work that you’ve been doing with the young person and the family.

“There have been a number of stories of young people throughout the years [that have stood out],” says Barb.

 Barb is also particularly proud of the work being done by the new youth advisory group called the ‘Super Hornets’. The group of young mental health consumers (who have previously been treated by the team at the Austin and have now taken on the role of advisors) provides feedback that is used to improve the services offered.

“They have been through mental health issues and got support from our service, but they want to give back. They keep us honest really, to make sure we are relevant and doing what we should be doing. They’re a great group of young people.

 “The other side is the young people that are currently clients,” Barb adds.

“I run a group on the adolescent unit once a month for feedback with the young people that are admitted into the unit. It’s a great group.

“They give us really honest feedback about what it’s like to be there, how we can improve things and it’s just a real privilege to be able to get direct voice from young people. They’re great fun, on the whole!” Barb says.

Barb then tells me about some of the most moving work in her career.

“I think one of my significant career experiences has been the bushfires. I had the bushfire portfolio for the Austin CAMHS and so for five years I did a lot of work with the communities and schools that were affected by the bushfires. So that was a career highlight and I think that was really significant,” says Barb.

“There was a lot of trauma, but also a lot of hope. Just seeing how resilient people are was a real privilege, particularly in areas like Strathewen and King Lake West.”

Barb also notes when “you are involved so closely with people’s lives, you do take on some of the stress of that”.

“I think to be a social worker in whatever field, it can take its toll so you need to be careful to also look after yourself. To last this long in a helping profession, you really do need to make sure you’ve got good support… That’s one of the very solid things about working at the Austin,” says Barb.

The SAFEMinds initiative

Thanks to her expertise with mental health and young people, Barb was given the opportunity to be involved in setting up the SAFEMinds initiative. SAFEMinds is a learning and resource package that caters to schools and families, in order to help improve early intervention efforts and enhance mental health support through the engagement of schools, parents and carers.

“It’s Department of Education funded,” says Barb. “They contacted headspace National to get a team together to work on a project that assisted schools looking at anxiety, depression and self-harm.

“We delivered around Victoria. So I was doing a lot of travelling. That was amazing – particularly with wellbeing teams and schools,” Barb says.

“And long ago, I always thought either teaching or social work, so it sort of met both needs. I was working with schools and teachers, which I really enjoyed.”

“We’ve really picked up some of the gaps – as well as working alongside children and young people, it’s parents and carers,” Barb says.

Barb is also very committed to ensuring schools are supporting their students.

“I think schools play a huge role in making sure that they have a relationship with their students. And that’s not just around academic goals, it’s also around wellbeing. Schools are in such a privileged position to really build relationships,” Barb says.

“When a young person isn’t going so well, all sorts of things can happen – and, I mean, just adolescence is hard enough! But schools should be watching out and noticing when someone is not travelling well. They should know where to go and where to get help.

“That’s really what SAFEMinds is promoting as well, which fits well with my approach,” says Barb.

Barb’s outlook on mental health

Barb’s suggests that for anyone who is struggling with mental health issues, “make sure you are letting others know, if you can, that things are tough for you”.

On this note, Barb stresses the importance of “making sure there are opportunities for kids to know where to go for help”.

A well-versed authority on young people and mental health, Barb is as passionate as ever about seeing services in this area continue to improve.

“There are lots of gaps still in supporting young people with mental health issues – kids slip through and don’t get the assistance they should,” Barb says.

“A lot of that is to do with funding and priority of Government. I worry about the under twelves because of the lack of resources for under twelves and their families. If we can support children and young people as early as possible, [I] hope that once they hit adulthood, they can get back on track.”

In terms of her career, Barb still has a lot lying in store for her, saying “I’ve still got challenges and I’m not bored. I really like the system’s work”.

“Even though I’ve been at the Austin for many years, I’ve done different roles and had the opportunity for that,” says Barb.

Besides, Barb says, “passing on your knowledge and experience is really satisfying, when you realise you actually know something after all these years!”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

 

 

 

64. George Giuliani

12 Apr

DSC_0178George Giuliani is the CEO of not-for-profit E-focus, an employment and community development centre in Heidelberg. The service aims to help people from all walks of life in Banyule, particularly youth to access training, apprenticeship and careers counselling who might otherwise struggle to do so on their own. Aside from the vision, I immediately see why the organisation is so successful- the office feels just as friendly and supportive as its CEO.

George leads me to his homely office and is keen to get to business. He says “(it’s about) really hearing what people have to say, engaging in their stories…that’s true throughout all of life.”

All E-focus’ services and programs embody this sentiment well. From the Disability Employment Services, Training and Apprenticeships, to “just helping people look at their options and talking about their ambitions,” E-focus “…blends training and support” in a way that helps people feel welcome and cared for.

George becomes delightfully animated as he emphasises that one of the key things he’s learnt in his career for anyone to gain employment is that “relationships (are) the building blocks…use networks, friends and family that you know…don’t just rely online.” He also drives home the point that a key part of not only finding a job but staying in the workforce is “transferring your passion into work.”

George lives up this idea spectacularly. He says helping people in a humanitarian way is “in his blood” as he “comes from a big (Italian migrant) family.” George completed year 12 (HSC in those days) but did not pass enough subjects to go to university. In his mid-20s after a variety of jobs and five years as an upholsterer he studied youth work and then family therapy part time which eventually put him in the position to “study a doctorate in social work…so as to have a theoretical framework (to work with.)” Such a framework has helped George connect and help people with the challenges they face and contribute to government social policy on employment / unemployment.

The challenges that Banyule faces in terms of employment and upholding livelihoods include catering for “an aging population (and) young migrant families from Somalian, Lebanese and Sudanese communities,” as well as “helping young people and people with disabilities enter mainstream employment.”

To continually meet these challenges, E-focus’ programs have evolved overtime, along with the local community, just as the “nature of work has changed,” George said. Therefore, the programs emphasis on things like “soft skills, how to keep self-motivated…how to relate to your employer” are core elements of helping people get back to work.

George is eager to discuss the importance of not only overcoming challenges that your work faces but also meeting the challenge of taking care of yourself. In finding “a professional balance…you need to care about what you do, and have solid motivation, but…also practise self-care. You need to not burn out, or else you get detached.” George says that his “family life and (having) tough beginnings” have served as the most personal growth for him, and have also given him the biggest personal rewards.

The best professional reward, George believes that E-focus successfully continues to meet Banyule’s challenges. The organisation continues to thrive and outlive George’s vision of “encouraging people to be the best they can be and giving them the credit.”

This is because George and the 75 E-focus members of staff continue to acknowledge that Banyule is diverse, constantly finding ways for “different groups to interact with each other, to gain mutual understanding and engagement in different cultures and lifestyles.” This way, George explains, “…we can be respectful of difference…listen and learn from each other…even if we don’t always agree or understand each other.”

One final piece of advice George is eager to leave me with is the idea of “finding things you’re passionate about… (and using it) to give back to the community.” With a knowing smile, he tells me “you’ll get more back from giving than you can ever imagine.”

Words: Taylor Carre-Riddell

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto