Tag Archives: Youth Work

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

40. Glenn Farrington and Brett Ross

2 Jul

_MG_9969-EditIt is quite extraordinary sitting across from Glenn and Brett. They make you feel at ease, but also in awe. Between them they have over fifty years of experience in youth work, and despite this, they are not jaded. Together, they present with overwhelming warmth, and speak with compassion and care. They are two youth workers from Open House, a community house currently based in Ivanhoe but shortly moving to Macleod. With Open House, Glenn and Brett run programs and mentor youth and generally are known as people you can trust and turn to.

Before officially becoming a staff member eighteen years ago, Brett was a plumber and had volunteered at Open House for two years. He was looking for a change and saw the good that Open House does and transitioned to full time youth work. With his family background to Open House (Glenn’s parents were the founders) was almost preordained but you can’t say he is there out of a sense of duty or obligation. It is pure passion; a drive to help others and pass on knowledge. He has been involved with Open House for over twenty years, and youth work for over thirty, as well as being a pastry chef before making the full-time transition to Open House.

In the early 1990s, a group was started: The Banyule Network. It was a support group for youth worker, who, in the words of Glenn, “didn’t know what we were doing”. They were all blue collar workers – “mostly blokes”, he says, “which I thought was weird as I thought it was mostly females in this industry” – who knew they wanted to help and make a difference but needed the extra support. Glenn is passionate about mentoring and believes all youth workers should have a mentor and supportive work systems in place. He speaks highly of Open House and mentions it was only earlier that day he went into his boss’s office with a problem. Having the open-door system, he says, is imperative to learning, development, and the worker’s own well-being.

They tell me about different participants they’ve had over the years, the programs they’ve offered. Many of the programs Open House offer start organically: a participant comes to the worker, they identify a need and a program is crafted. About ten years ago, they tried to target youth smokers. They had to invent ways to get the effects of smoking across and eventually thought of breathing through straws. “Want to know what it’s like to be a smoker, thirty years in the future? Breathe through a McDonalds drinking straw and try to play basketball,” Glenn tells me, laughing. By decreasing the size of the straw – McDonalds, standard, Chuppa-Chup – the harder it is to breathe thus the lungs of a smoker down the track. It’s a real practical way to reach youths who smoke who otherwise can’t begin to imagine the health risks so far in the future.

“He couldn’t take more than five steps,” Glenn says, laughing at the memory of a participant trying to play basketball while breathing through a Chuppa-Chup straw. It’s a funny memory but a sombering experience, and just another example of Open House’s innovation and commitment to helping people, no matter the road blocks (they had originally applied for assistance and funding to do a harm minimisation program around smoking and were unsuccessful, and despite this found alternative methods to present the program within their constraints).

They operate on a friendship model which gives them more leeway to work differently with their participants. “It’s about meeting them where they’re at,” Brett says. There are programs to see people from prep to elder age; and people know that long-term support is there: whenever they need it. Respect is also key component for both Glenn and Brett. “You tell me straight,” a participant once told Glenn. “The kids know Brett believes in them. You can tell by the way he tears up,” Glenn says, a little smile on his face.

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Calling them mere co-workers would be a disservice to their relationship. Jostling around together in front of me and friends outside the workplace, Brett and Glenn are clearly close mates. “Would saying I love him be wrong?” Glenn joked, and for a moment they lovingly, jokingly, looked into each other’s eyes. Glenn says that he’s prettier than Brett, and Brett suggests that Glenn spends more time in the salon that he does. Despite the laughs, it’s obvious they care greatly for each other – but more so have huge amounts of respect for each other and their work. “There is only one word,” Glenn says. “It’s a privilege [to work with and know Brett]. We hold each other very close and very dear.” Brett returns the sentiment – after joking that Glenn read the cue cards correctly (and his $50 is in the mail) – saying “When talking about Glenn, its passion and compassion. Passion is what drives you and compassion is what you give out.” He says that he’s never met anyone as passionate as Glenn, or anyone more willing to take on complex cases and never them turn away, rising to the challenge.

As they walk me out, Glenn explains that to respect others personal space, they greet females by touching elbows. We touch elbows and say goodbye, and as the wind catches the door and slams behind me I know that their door has seen the best and worst of people – but Glenn and Brett are working hard to bring their best, and that’s a warming thought on a cold windy day.

Words: Megan Burke

Photo: Sean Porter