October 16, 2017

Taylor Carre-Riddell

Lis Blake is employed as the Youth Facilitator at Banyule Community Health’s Youth Foundation Program. Lis works with young people living in 3081 or attending Parkville College. Lis works with them to work out small, relatively low budget projects which can make a difference to themselves or their community. She then supports the young people as they learn to apply for a grant and deliver their project. Each project is unique being dependent on the ideas and needs of each group. Previous projects are incredibly varied, and include: the Aboriginal Deb Ball, improvements to  a local basketball court and taking students on a trip to the Islam Museum.

Lis’s passion for youth empowerment is infectious – but also admirably practical. She clearly centres her work at the grass roots level, as she focuses on “asking the right questions so young people can start imagining how to improve their community.” Her job is to facilitate the process – basically support young people to do it themselves, as writing a grant application can be a daunting process for everyone (adults included).

Lis asserts that “young people often know what’s needed but don’t have a chance to express it or make it happen.” This was the case when she was working at the Pavilion School, and crossed paths with Skye, a Pavilion student and young mother, who wanted to apply for funds for a school laptop. Often seen as commonplace nowadays, Lis says a laptop would be beyond “helpful and necessary” for Skye and her peers: the device would be a way for the students to “…keep in touch with their teachers and keep on top of their school work.”

Becoming and staying connected in the school environment may seem basic and far from a total solution. Lis wants to challenge these ideas, and tells me that “…not many schools (welcome young mums) so the statistics for young mums finishing their education is low.” Therefore, “simple ideas” like providing laptops can help educational facilities like the Pavilion School provide their educational service, and in turn, help “…young mums complete their education.”

Lis likens “assistive projects like this as a part of a jigsaw of activities and services which can build access to education and opportunities for those who might otherwise fall out of the system.” But Lis also mentions how “sustainability is always a problem.” While the laptop “…will help a significant number of women for a number of years, it will eventually break. Lis contemplates how “money is always needed for projects… I don’t think that will ever change.” Lis and her team will always be looking for financial support to make projects run, and fund-raising innovation is always welcome.

Lis also highlights the need to raise awareness about youth participation and empowerment, to continue nurturing youth to become: “adults who are active in their community, who are able to articulate what is needed for themselves and others, and who believe that positive change is possible and something they can be part of.

“Lis says her current work highlights this perfectly- “I am working with a group of VCAL students from Melbourne Polytechnic. They are applying for a grant to raise awareness for mental health amongst young people.” This coincides with the Youth Foundations aim to: Make strategic youth investments in priority locations by funding local youth led initiatives. Essentially, this means supporting community by investing in the short term for longer-term benefits.

For this project, the youth at Melbourne Polytechnic are being advised  by Headspace so that when they are running their mental health awareness event they can ensure that the information they share with others is correct. This kind of connectivity and support encapsulates another Youth Foundation aim: Support(ing) young people to take part in community planning in their local area. Empowering young people with specialised knowledge and skills means they can take greater responsibility and investment in shaping the world around them. Youth empowerment and youth participation means we can work towards  young people acting as leaders and role models, and getting important information out to people who need it. What’s not to like?

The program is generously supported by Bendigo Bank, Banyule Community Health Service, Latrobe University and Banyule City Council.

-Taylor Carre-Riddell

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