45. Jess Sayers

17 Feb

_MG_3542-EditOnce you get her talking, there is no stopping her. Jess Sayers, 29, is a youth worker for the Banyule Youth Services and I would be impressed if you could find someone who loves their job more than she does.

She is involved in many Banyule youth programs and initiatives, but is most notably the facilitator of Street Art, a program run for young people designed to deter them from illegal graffiti.

Street Art is a crime prevention program, under our graffiti management strategy that encourages young people to participate in legal graffiti options,” she said.

“We have weekly workshops and every term we do legal murals. There are a few main core guys we see, it’s amazing seeing their journey and watching them grow.”

Jess says that her career choice was almost inevitable; she has always been savvy with young people. Her choice of career may have come organically, although it certainly didn’t come quickly.

“I actually had no idea what I wanted to do when I left high school,” she said. “I decided to do disability studies at university once I finished school, but I didn’t love it, so I stayed for a year and then went travelling.”

Once she returned back to reality (after just under a year travelling Europe- how amazing), Jess did some soul searching and decided she wanted to do something that helped people.

“I’ve coached netball my whole life and loved it more than anything,” she said. “I made a lot of great relationships with the young girls there, and they were always naturally drawn to me to discuss any issues they had.”

Jess finally found her calling, she wanted to work with young people. “I didn’t even know that youth work was a thing,” she said, “but after enrolling in a community services course at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT), all of my options all of a sudden became a lot clearer.”

Her passion is contagious. She gushes with pride and excitement when she talks about her job. No conversation is dull when it is with Jess, she is incredibly bubbly and energetic, you can’t help but want to open up to her.

Jess completed her Diploma of Welfare and began placement with the Banyule Youth Services, “and I’ve been her ever since!” she laughs. She’s only been full time with Banyule for a bit over two years, but in the meantime has worked there part time and with other councils, Nillumbik and Whittlesea.

“When I first started my placement at Banyule I was really fortunate because they were just about to start a Youth Summit. There was so much happening, so I was able to keep saying yes to everything.”

After that, Jess continued to help out at Banyule a couple of days a week, the remainder of her days spent at her other job, Subway. She has always been a hard worker, that’s for sure.

“Literally for about three to four years I was kept on at Banyule because of maternity leave positions, until I was finally offered a permanent position,” she said.

Since working at Banyule, Jess went back to university to complete a degree of youth work in her spare time.

Once Jess became an official member of the team, she started to get her own programs. One of her fondest programs was the young mother’s group.

“I loved working with the young mother’s group,” she said. “I liked the fact that the group was non judgemental and was a place young mums felt safe to be themselves and comfortable with their peers.”

“The main thing that I’ve been doing, that I love more than anything, is the Street Art program,” she said. “That’s probably been the biggest chunk of my role. I love it, it’s the best.”

“A lot of them don’t typically have a lot of family support, so after getting support from us, they’re able to link in and get jobs. If they are linked into something positive, like education or employment, then everything else seems to settle a bit around them.”

Jess says that there is no such thing as a typical day in the Banyule Youth Services’ office. “You definitely get the occasional day where you’re stuck in the office all day, but most of the time my day is jam packed with meetings, catch ups, seeing my individual support clients and getting out and about running the programs.”

When asked what her biggest accomplishment in her career so far would be, Jess couldn’t pinpoint one. “The main thing that comes to my head is seeing a young person grow and become confident and to accomplish things they never thought they could.”

“The most beneficial thing is seeing a young person reach a happy place and finally become content with life,” she said. “Even in Street Art, some of the boys dropped out of school really early but are now actually working full time and just kicking butt! They’re the sort of people that would have probably gone to drugs to cope with their problems, but they have learned to come and talk and use words to get through tough situations.”

Jess says that some of the hardest situations she has had to face as a youth worker are the deaths of young people. “They were really hard because you have had relationships with them and their families and it’s even harder because you are watching everyone else struggle to get through it and understand it.”

You would have a hard time finding someone more suited to their job than Jess. She is a self-confessed chatterbox and people person; young people love her just as much as she loves them.

In fact, she can’t ever resist the urge to help young people out. At the end of our interview she quizzed me about my future aspirations and after telling her that I was looking for a media internship, she hooked me up with a friend of a friend in the media industry. She lives and breathes her job.

And she’s not alone. Jess says that she works amongst a team of inspirational people. “There’s been some amazing people come through,” she said. “Everyone at Banyule is so diverse, with different, interesting stories to tell. They make coming to work every day easy.”

“I’m not young anymore, there are still occasions where I’m not sure whether my ideas will appeal to a younger demographic, but the best way is to get them involved. Unless you are actually going out and finding out what young people want, it doesn’t work.”

What’s next for the Banyule Youth Services and Jess herself? “Who knows really? We do plan ahead but there are always 100 things that just come up. We’ve got all of the Summit recommendations, so we want to start putting them into practice. I will keep working with the Street Art program, the older boys are now getting into mentor roles, which is really nice to see.”

Ironically, Jess will soon be taking maternity leave from the position she got through maternity leave vacancies. So there is room for a new mini-Jess to warm her seat until she gets back… At least one thing is for sure, they will have big shoes to fill.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photos: Sean Porter

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