I was only recently employed by Youth Opportunities, but I could tell very early on that the organisation keeps young people at the center of everything they do. This started right from the application process, where I was asked to create a 10-minute video on issues facing young people today. This video was then shown to Youth Opportunities’ past graduates, and these students were asked to provide feedback to the leadership team on how they thought I would be as a trainer. I learned quickly that Youth Opportunities really does consider and respect young people’s opinions and ideas.
Now, three months on, I can still see how Youth Opportunities continues to keep young people as their core focus, involving them in any area they can, and regularly identifying innovative ways to increase their reach to support more young people.
Youth Opportunities has supported young people for over 25 years through delivery of their core face-to-face Personal Leadership Program (PLP). At the beginning of 2023, thanks to funding received from the federal government, Youth Opportunities began working on a pilot program, the ‘Activate’ Personal Leadership Program which sees the team working with a new cohort of young people who are at risk of disengaging from mainstream education. This is the program I am lucky enough to be a part of and I now train three out of our four Activate programs.
With an educational background in psychology and criminology, I jumped at the chance to work in this space. Our Activate program works with those who pose a higher risk of engagement with the criminal justice system and may have also been identified as being at higher risk of facing complex barriers, including but not limited to behavioral concerns, the experience of trauma, substance misuse, emotional dysregulation, dis-engagement with the mainstream schooling system, family instability, and exposure to crime or violence.
The skills we work on in Activate aim to support these young people by allowing them time to focus on personal accountability, leadership skills, relationship building, building positive communication, and stepping out of their comfort zone.
As I started at Youth Opportunities mid-way through Term 1, I had the chance to observe trainers deliver both Elevate our core face-to-face Personal Leadership Pathway and Activate. I noticed immediately that the Activate program had several points of difference.
Firstly, Activate is delivered to a younger cohort (year 9s), compared to PLP which is designed for year 10s. Activate is also delivered over a 16-week period, whilst PLP is delivered in just 10. This allows for the content delivered in Activate to be divided up into easily digestible sessions, allowing students more time to grasp the Youth Opportunities concepts over the semester. Activate also has shorter delivery days, PLP follows a similar structure to school and runs from 9am to 3pm, whereas the Activate day is four hours long. I have recognised that the shorter day encourages increased engagement and attendance among the young people in this program, many of whom have a very low attendance rate at school. Across the Activate program we also have multiple excursions. These were put in place to aid in relationship development between students, and with the students and trainers. The excursions are also a great way to put the YO teachings into action outside of the training room.
We have seen great success in this program already. Students have demonstrated that they can apply the tools and concepts learned in Activate to external spaces: students engaged in public spaces in a respectful manner, interacting with the public using strong positive communication skills. I have seen the young students thrive and step out of their comfort zones on these excursions, leaving them with a real sense of pride and accomplishment.
My fellow trainers and I are seeing big changes in the students, both individually and as a cohort. Many students first came to the Activate program quite timid and reserved, but have recently blossomed, and are showing great positive changes such as:
- displaying an increased awareness of their own behaviour;
- developing positive communication skills towards one another, trainers, and the public;
- demonstrating an increase in confidence, contributing and engaging with the group more, and interacting with one another;
- showing an increase in motivation, both in general and towards schoolwork; and
- sharing that they enjoy coming to Youth Opportunities as they feel they can express themselves without fear of being judged.
As a trainer, I thoroughly enjoy seeing the growth in each of these young people. They have a wonderful ability to adapt to Youth Opportunities’ concepts and tools into their own lives seamlessly, even if they are not consciously aware of it. The small wins of the day turn into BIG wins when we hear positive feedback from school staff about changes in their students. The most powerful wins, however, are when students tell us what changes they have seen and felt in themselves outside of the training room. Activate has already returned very strong pilot data and results, and I am excited to see the positive impact this program will continue to have on many more young people.
Carly Smith, Youth Opportunities Trainer