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People of worth

23 January 2013

Sarah and her colleagues know that a vital component of Salvation Army mission is reaching out to the young people of damaged, healing communities such as Healesville.

For Sarah, previously a city slicker, that initially presented some new challenges.

‘I’d always worked where kids were already and visible homeless, and in the system,’ she explains. ‘In country settings, youth homelessness is hidden.’

Acknowledging that ‘there are no current stats to back that up’, Sarah states that ‘the Healseville High school has up to 100 kids each week, coming for a Wednesday breakfast’.

'The bushfire recovery was what brought us into the school. Most of the kids we work with aren't directly fire affected [and] only a couple of the homeless kids (that we know of) were directly fire affected. Many are just from broken and damaged families.

'Eastern Victoria Division's bushfire recovery manager Luke Roberts still meets regularly with some of our most damaged clients, as he does more recovery work than me. Luke took on added responsibility to meet client need when funding for Jo's position ran out.

‘I’ve educated three year nine classes on the issues around youth homelessness, as a compulsory humanities subject in the school’s curriculum, and we have also undertaken projects to raise funds and awareness. We were able to take this class to Melbourne project 614 and show them some local homelessness services at work in Melbourne as well.’

One strategy Sarah deployed was showing the Salvos’ Oasis DVD to year nine students (aged from 14 to 16), and asking if they knew or knew of homeless kids.

‘In one class, Sarah recalls, ‘half the class put their hands up. We are hearing stories of young people who are found as they sleep at school – it’s the safest place they have, especially after the fires.

‘There is such a lack of support in what is admittedly a small community, that the best option for kids is couch surfing; at least that way they are not removed from their support networks, which are still traumatised in any case, and sent out to unknown suburbs such as Ringwood.’

Local council youth worker Lauren and Sarah have started a girls’ group to try to engage with young women. The need for such a group was evident to the two women. Also, Brad runs a boys group with a couple of other workers/teachers.

‘In areas such as self-esteem, assertiveness, anger management, bullying, and positive relationships,’ Sarah notes, ‘girls in the school system were behind in their development and were at risk of being abused.

‘The girls had a good deal of confusion between what they saw as empowerment, which was in some cases really exploitation. A lot of girls think they are making  good choice in forming and maintaining sexual relationships with older boys and older men in the community, but later they come to realise they, or others, were just being used in unequal relationships, where power and money were used to dominate them.’

Sarah says the vulnerability of the girls she works with in some cases embodies the frailty of the Healseville community in general. ‘With so much misery and grief,’ she explains, ‘and so many negative experiences and decisions coming out of that,  it takes a healthy, equal relationship to shine a light on how unhealthy other relationships have been.’

The girls group ends with goal setting and an invitation for the young women to select an older person to become a role model and affirm their dreams and hopes.

‘We want these girls to know that they are of incredible worth,’ says Sarah.

‘They don’t have to do anything to become worthy, or to gain anyone’s favour. God loves them for who they are, so we tell them, “You are loved just as you are”.

'The gospel was the foundation for why we started the group, as both Lauren and I are Christians. We wanted the messages that girls can hear in church to also be heard by girls who don't go to church. They are loved just as they are – that’s the message of the gospel.’