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


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

63. Dex

28 Mar


You can count the number of Viewbank locals who’ve filmed music videos in Hong Kong on one hand. Okay, probably just one finger. That’s Dex.

Dexter Cairns, known by his stage name Dex, is fresh from a national tour with Aussie hip-hop royalty Bliss N Esso. Despite glowing endorsements from the likes of Triple J’s Matt Okine off the back of his debut LP Young Zen, Dex remains humble about his journey.

When we spoke just before the tour, the eighteen-year-old deflects industry insider talk that he is on the cusp of ‘breaking’. With rap music playing in the background, he keeps bringing the conversation back to thanking his fans and mentors who helped him get to where he is today.

“I guess that a lot of people don’t want to help you in creative industries, but a lot of people will. You’ve just got to find the right people.”

“I think mentors are definitely important, because like literally if you want to learn something go to someone who is in that position. If you want to be at they are going to help you get there.”

Dex started listening to rap earlier than most. By the time he was six or seven, the highlights of long car trips with his dad and older brother Max was listening to new local and international artists.

By the time secondary school rolled around, Dex had well and truly immersed himself in the local hip-hop scene. He’d sometimes wag school to write lyrics.

“I was bored in class and I was writing raps. School wasn’t really my cup of tea.

I just wanted to be outside running around being crazy, and to write lyrics.”

“When I started putting things down I found I was getting lots of shit for it because at the start of highschool everyone’s sort of judging each other. Everyone is trying to find themselves, and for me the music was like the thing that made me find myself,” he says.

“It’s funny, people’s attitudes change a lot. I’ve seen people out and about now, and they go ‘oh you’re doing so well now!’ I’m just thinking, you used to give me shit three or fours years ago. I don’t really let it get to me, I just laugh to myself about how fake people can be”.

Dex says he doesn’t think too deeply about the writing process. He just puts on a beat and starts writing, which helps him process what’s going on around him.

His work touches on everything from normal growing pains like fake friends, dating and dreaming of the future. His LP ‘16’ is compelling listening, highly relatable and catchy. His most recent work, like singles ‘Rooftops’ and ‘Limitless’ from Young Zen, focuses on what happens when you achieve your dreams.

All of Dex’s tracks are honest, but ‘I’m Sorry’ about his Dad is heartbreaking. He deals with the “dark times” after his father’s death a few years ago in a lot of his earlier work.

“It really helped me, especially when I lost my dad, to get something out rather than just doing lots of stupid shit. I did do that as well, I did go off and do some pretty stupid shit with my mates, but that’s just normal growing up stuff.”

“It just really feels like [rap] is the thing that got me through that stage when I was 15 or 16”, he says. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot since, it’s good to talk about it but not let it define who I am today.”

Despite, maybe due to, his success, Dex is just as likely to post a tribute to a fan who got his autograph tattooed on his arm as he is to post ironic photo of himself eating a Callipo. Take a scroll through Instagram and you’ll find thousands of fans screaming at local gigs, as well as snaps from his tours in South-East Asia.

“You just take a step out of yourself and go, wow. This was the shit I was dreaming about four or five years ago.

“Now I want it more and more. I want to do bigger and better things. You just keep pushing yourself.”

Something tells me he’ll do just that.

Words: Rachael Ward

Photo: Sean Porter



62. Hannah Gandy

16 Feb


When I meet 18 year old Hannah Gandy, I am immediately greeted by her friendly and confident nature. As I soon discover, she also happens to be a very remarkable person.
Despite the challenges of her past, Hannah has achieved many incredible things.

“Coming from a single-parent, low socio-economic status family of three children, my mum had to work full time to make ends meet. As a result of difficult circumstances, at 13 years old I was enrolled in Year 8 at The Pavilion School,” says Hannah.

“This year, I am the first student from The Pavilion School to complete my Victorian Certificate of Education, receive an ATAR score and attend university.”

Hannah attended The Pavilion School, a Victorian State Secondary School for students who have struggled at or been excluded by other schools.

Not only was Hannah the first student from The Pavilion to successfully complete VCE, but she also completed the challenging La Trobe VCE Plus. This means that as part of her VCE, Hannah did two law subjects at La Trobe University – an impressive feat for any secondary school student.

Now, Hannah is off to La Trobe University to study a double degree in Law and Arts.

Hannah says she completed VCE at the Distance Education Centre Victoria.

“I did VCE subjects through Distance Education this year but I was still enrolled at The Pavilion School,” she says.

“I really liked doing Distance Ed. It allowed me to do so many things and still be able to prioritise my schoolwork, but not have to do it in a set period of time. I was able to go to work during the day and then come home at night and do my VCE work.”

The Pavilion School supported Hannah throughout her VCE experience and, according to Hannah, were “really good”.

“They really helped me a lot. They would supervise all my SACs [school-assessed coursework] for me. If I wanted any support, they would give it to me,” says Hannah.

Support would come in many forms, including “a teacher picking me up and driving me to exams – stuff like that”.

I ask Hannah whether she found this daunting, but she breezes over the difficult aspects of VCE as a hurdle she clearly was able to take into stride.

“There were a few challenges throughout the year, where I just had no time. But I just kept studying.”

“I did English, Legal Studies, Australian Politics, Health and Human Development and then I did my two law subjects through ‘VCE Plus’. They were my Year 12 subjects. I have maintained an average of ‘A’ in most subjects … [and] enjoyed every subject I have taken,” she says.

At The Pavilion, Hannah has set new standards in more than one way.

“This year I have had the incredible privilege of acting as my school’s first ever School Captain.”

Last year, Hannah decided to provide additional support to other students at The Pavilion by organising and running a peer support program.

“This included offering assistance to students undertaking all types of education including VCE, VCAL, and VET subjects,” she says.

“I help other students, assisting them to learn and talking to them about doing Distance Ed or whatever they want to do. I help students who are taking VCE subjects but are enrolled in VCAL at The Pavilion School.

“I encourage them to do their best as I see them becoming more engaged in their education… and I have formed strong relationships with these students. I have seen many of these students show significant signs of improvement, in both schoolwork and their outlook on life.

“My most cherished and important function is to act as a role model and mentor to current and future students.

“These students no longer feel like The Pavilion is the end of their journey but the one open door to endless opportunities.”

Hannah says this is similar to how she felt, thanks to the support of The Pavilion.

“I’d always like to give back to the community, with youth who have been in hard places… I really feel for them. I want other kids to see me and know that they can do that too. It doesn’t really matter where they’ve come from or that they’ve come from The Pavilion. They can have every opportunity,” says Hannah.

“The school has also seen a major increase in students enrolling in Distance Education subjects.”

Hannah received the excellent news that she had been accepted into La Trobe to study a Bachelor of Law/Arts. She says, “I’ll be doing law and I want to major in politics.”

Although law was initially not on Hannah’s mind, she decided to try the subject at school. Now, Hannah already has some real-world experience under her belt in this field.

“When I was at The Pavilion School, I wasn’t really interested in [law], but then one of my teachers said to me, you should take legal studies!

“I wasn’t sure of what subjects I wanted to take, so I took it. She [the teacher] would keep saying to me, you’re going to be a lawyer one day!

“I thought, no I’m not. That’s not what I want. Then, as soon as I began taking Legal Studies in Year 11, I absolutely loved it,” says Hannah.

“I took Australian Politics in Year 12 and became more interested in public service and was working at the Fair Work Commission. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in being a lawyer but was interested in studying law and in public service and politics.”

Hannah says that one of her teacher’s had a sister who worked at the Fair Work Commission who helped Hannah to secure a position there for work experience. Hannah was then asked to stay on at Fair Work as a clerk, working one day a week while at school and full-time during holidays. This is when Hannah’s interest in law became stronger.

“When they asked if I would keep working there, it was then that I started becoming more interested in pursuing it [law].

“This has been invaluable to my studies and assuring [me] what I want to do in my life.”

By studying two university subjects ahead of time through the VCE Plus program, Hannah feels that her transition to full-time study at La Trobe University will be “quite smooth”.

“I sort of know what it will be like. And because I did distance education, it [studying at uni] was quite similar to how I was studying anyway.”

When I ask Hannah about her experience doing two university subjects, she exudes modesty but it is impossible not to be impressed with the results she achieved.

In the two La Trobe law subjects that were part of VCE Plus, Hannah exceeded the expectations for most high school students attempting a university subject.

“I received high distinctions for [my] two university subjects … I also received the highest mark out of everyone for law in the program.”

Hannah offers some tips for other young people who are unsure of the path they want to follow.

“Take as many opportunities as you can and try to get as much experience as you can in the area, before you decide you do or don’t want to do it. I’d just say take every opportunity you can.”

Like any typical secondary school student, Hannah is relieved to be able to say “I finished exams on the 9th of November”.

Now with exams done, Hannah is focused on work and her other passions, including music.

“I play music casually at home with my brother. We play a few instruments, the guitar and keyboard. We have a music room set up and so I’m over there a lot just playing music. But other than that, I’m not doing much, just hanging out!”

Next on the agenda for Hannah is to “study next year at La Trobe, continue working and see what happens!”

With an extraordinary track record like Hannah’s, we are sure to be seeing amazing things from her, whatever she chooses to do.

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photos: Jason Rohmursanto




61. Ahmed Hassan

11 Jan

DSC_0262.jpg“Whatever you do in life, you’ve got to give back to your community.”

Those are the words of Ahmed Hassan, 20, one of the founders of Youth Activating Youth (YAY), an organisation that helps disadvantaged multicultural young people navigate their way through life.

Ahmed says the organisation works to improve the employment, health, education, and sporting outcomes of this minority group, as these are the four areas they struggle with most, as well as encouraging them to engage with their community.

“We help these young people get through these barriers, through a lot of hours spent mentoring and offering guidance,” he says.

Ahmed says the organisation operates all throughout Melbourne, and he works with them one-on-one, and in large groups.

“We have big workshops, where we discuss topics like identity, and overall health. These workshops help the young people discuss the issues with their peers, and is a good opportunity to get advice from the facilitators,” he says.

“We also work with them one-on-one, trying to identify any issues they might be having, to do with life, employment, or education, for example, and help work out ways these can be improved.”

Ahmed’s parents migrated from Africa to Australia back in 1994, just two years before he was born.

He studied at Reservoir High School, and said he’s been incredibly lucky, receiving numerous opportunities, which is part of the reason he’s so passionate about giving back.

“I know what it means to not have opportunities, and I know what it’s like to receive opportunities, so I’ve seen both sides,” he says.

“I saw that there were a lot of disadvantaged young people getting neglected, and I just wanted to help them.”

Ahmed says since its inception in January last year, YAY has worked with over 2,000 young people from different cultural backgrounds, aged between 14-24 years.

He says their popularity has been gained through word of mouth and social media.

“We’re quite active on social media, with over 700 followers on our Facebook page, and over 1,500 members in our private Facebook group.”

He says while a lot of young people are happy to talk, it can be a bit harder for others to open up.

“We go to a lot of sporting days, and sometimes we just have to go up to young people and just ask if they’re ok,” he says.

“We’re a youth led initiative, so generally young people are pretty happy to open up to us.”

YAY helped organise a youth summit earlier this year, where hundreds of young people, experts, and youth engagement officers were in attendance to discuss issues facing young multicultural people.

“Many issues came out of the summit, a lot of young people were leaving school, for example,” Ahmed says.

“We also discussed that a lack of opportunities was the reason a lot of young people were going out and committing crimes.”

Ahmed says one of his biggest accomplishments to date was being nominated by The Herald Sun for the Pride of Australia award this year.

“I was honoured to be nominated, but I want to give it back to the youth, they’re who I’m doing this for,” he says.

“There are also a lot of other people who work behind the scenes.”

In addition to his volunteer work, Ahmed is in his second year of a software engineering course at RMIT University.

“I know it’s completely different to what I do day to day, but I’m really interested in IT, and I thought I’d pursue it because it seems the future is going that way,” he says.

“I would love to own my own business one day.”

Regardless of what he pursues, he’s adamant that he’ll always have a passion to help young people.

“YAY is very close to my heart, I’m not planning on letting it go,” he says.

“You can always combine two things at once, it’s just about having the right balance in life, you don’t want to overwork yourself.”

His message to young people who may feel overwhelmed by the future?

“Work as hard as possible,” he says.

“Opportunities don’t just come to anyone, you have to work hard for them.”

He says if young people need support, it shouldn’t be too far away.

“Help is never too far away, you’ve just got to ask for it.”

 Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

60. Richo Euston

12 Dec


“We grow up to be the people we wish we were around when we were young”, a favourite quote of Richard `Richo’ Euston, a youth worker at Banyule Council.

In his time working with Banyule, 34 year-old Richo has developed some great programmes such as the Rainbow Space Program along with helping out in the young male Somalian community, and even upgrades and maintenance for recreational spots such as skate parks around the area.

After initially wanting to work in Outdoor Education, Richo began his career in youth work in 2003. Richo realised throughout his youth the lack of support that many young people experience in the country town he grew up in. He also saw a heavily dominated “hyper-masculine football culture” that existed in his town, leaving it difficult for anybody who identified as gay, lesbian, trans or bi to openly discuss their sexuality or trust anybody to confide in. When I asked him what the Rainbow Space program is all about, he described it as “a safe place”, a program dedicated to people aged 14-25 where they can discuss their feelings and any difficulties they experience, social or mental.

Richo told me about the gap of funding in this area, and considers “the role of the ally” such as himself, very important to help fight homophobia in the community. He states that his main aim is to make sure that people who identify themselves as homosexual can see their sexuality as a “non-issue” and live happy equal lives.

Richo and his co-workers operate from their office at the Banyule Council, and also head out to schools across the area to facilitate informative and fun drama classes tackling the issues of homophobia within the school-yard, as well as pushing the appropriate use of social media. Their main way of helping individuals is by linking them in with referrals which are appropriate for the issue and making sure young people don’t “fall through the gaps”.

Two main themes Richo focuses on are “mindfulness” and “gratitude” with young people to improve their level of happiness. He stated that we all have a responsibility for young people and the way that they act, and that one of the most important things amongst young people is the resilience towards social media.

“A lot of parents will ensure their kids are taken off social media if they’re experiencing bullying or negative things. When in fact, that just makes the issue worse.”

Richo has a tactical approach to young people and social media sites such as Facebook. He believes that rather than telling young people not to use it, we should be advising them how to use it safely and appropriately due to its many benefits. The Rainbow Space program benefits from Facebook as it is used as a platform for young people to get in touch with himself and other co-workers in a way that they feel comfortable.

When I asked the charismatic Richo for any career highlights he told me there has never been “one or two big things because there’s always different teams to work with and I am constantly gaining new skills. Those are the highlights. A couple hours of work for me can change a young person’s life”.

He told me that none of these programs are exclusive. It’s not only Somali young men that can participate in the training programs and it’s not only lesbian, gay, bi or trans people who can reach out to Rainbow Space on Facebook.

One could say Richo’s success comes from the fact that he in so inclusive and can make anybody feel comfortable. One of the things he noted that I will remember throughout is “Developing resilience can guard against issues”. Sitting there in awe of all of his work and dedication, he reminded me “We don’t fix young people, we support young people”.

One of his most valuable strategies is to present youth with options and ask questions to be able to come to their own solution, whether this be through personal counselling sessions or a whole group drama class at a school.

Richo regards the holistic approach they use by collaborating across departments to be the grounds of their success within youth work. I asked him what he thinks makes a good youth worker, he replied by telling me “A lot of people go into youth or social work because they have their own issues that they believe they can use to help other people. This doesn’t work, you have to resolve your own issues to be able to help others.” After a long day of work, Richo enjoys meditating and cooking to take his mind of things. He encourages young people to find a hobby that helps them take their minds off things as a type of remedy for the issues they may have.

Richo and his colleagues work with all kinds of adolescent and youth. Mental and social issues can effect anybody regardless of their socio-economic status, where they live or their sexuality. Richo works to reduce the negative stigmas around stereotypes relevant to young people, and helps various groups find their voice within the community.

Not only is Richo Euston a great bloke, but also a role model for young people, and people of all ages. He shows that issues don’t have to be your own to help resolve them, and that the most important thing we can do is educate and support young people to ensure they have the opportunities to grow up and achieve the most they can in life regardless of their financial situation, sexuality or gender.

Words: Jaslyn McCarthy

Photo: Sean Porter