Ripples of resilience on Eyre Peninsula

Community stories: 24 July 2020

Content warning: this article deals with sensitive themes including self harm that might be disturbing for some audiences.

For students facing adversity in communities across SA’s Eyre Peninsula, a long-running resilience program helps them to create a future where they not only cope, but thrive.

Youth Opportunities runs a 60-hour, 10-week wellbeing and resilience program that provides young people, especially those that are disengaged and disadvantaged, with the tools and knowledge to overcome obstacles associated with life’s challenges – from bullying and anxiety to family dysfunction and drug and alcohol abuse.

In SA’s eastern and western Eyre Peninsula, drought is impacting on local families, increasing financial strain and social isolation. Port Lincoln High School, Tumby Bay High School and Whyalla High School report more than 30% of families are receiving financial assistance with school fees and materials. Statistics show farming communities across the state experience mental health problems at twice the rate of the general population, and for youth in the area, opportunities are low and suicide rates are higher than average.

The powerful program has found a 52.1% reduction in the number of teenagers at high risk of developing a mental health disorder as a direct result of training with Youth Opportunities.

Grants Officer, Mrs Sacha Burkett talks of a ‘ripple effect’ from the program. “This comes from young people making significantly better life choices, strengthening their personal relationships and becoming strong leaders amongst their communities.

“Following the delivery of our first program in Cummins, one local council member told Youth Opportunities she had “clearly witnessed much more community spirit and a behaviour change in young people in town”.

Youth Opportunities is structured to heavily subsidise the cost of delivery so the burden isn’t placed on budget restrained schools and low-income families, but remains accessible to those who need it most. The program has been running at schools successfully since 2008, but local drought and financial stress means there has been a decreased capacity to fundraise locally for the program to continue.

Against this backdrop, FRRR awarded a $20,000 grant, through the Tackling Tough Times Together (TTTT) program, thanks  to the support of the Australian Government. The grant part-funded local trainer’s salaries, training materials, administration, travel, graduation costs and sustained graduate engagement.

Across the three schools, 54 Year 10 students (aged 15 and 16) attended the program. Trainers combined practical experience and coaching, delivering content within a supportive group environment, extending the groups’ skills ‘in areas not typically part of school, but important for life’. Upon completion there was a Graduation Ceremony celebrating the journey, personal changes, achievements and outcomes of the students.

Feedback from the students illustrates the immediate benefits on their outlooks:

  • “I am feeling a lot happier and I am pushing myself harder to achieve my goals.”
  •  “I have developed the confidence I need within myself.”
  • “Youth Opps has really changed the way I think about everything, by not looking back and moving forward in life.”
  • “By opening up to challenges and new habits, I have found a new side of myself I never thought I would find.”
  • “Youth Opps has helped me to see my worth.”

All graduates are now being supported to reach their educational and personal goals through an additional two years support from Youth Opportunities trainers, focusing on reinforcing program content and helping graduates continue to achieve and succeed post-program.

Mel Degner, Principal Cummins Area School, wrote that the program cuts through and proves relevant for students of all backgrounds, giving them significant long-term skills and strategies.

“Through the Youth Opportunities Personal Leadership Program, many of our students reconnect with their families by learning how to communicate more positively, others change their goal planning to include further education or a newly discovered career path, and the majority discover important things about themselves and begin to value their self-worth.“

Similarly, Nicky Prosser, Principal Tumby Bay Area School, says the program has contributed to a positive shift in school culture, helping students manage their responses to negative experiences.

“Youth Opportunities delivers valuable outcomes for or students – positively impacting classrooms, friendship groups, families and the wider community.”

FRRR is delighted to have been able to support a program making such a positive difference.