The power of young people

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A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb:

Whenever I spend time with young people, most recently when I visited the Samaritans youth refuge in Newcastle, I’m reminded of one thing: they are incredibly powerful if they’re just given a chance.

We’re in the middle of Youth Week and the power of young people around the world has come into the mainstream media recently.

Just last month, 1.2+ million young people and their supporters marched across the United States (with smaller marches around the world) to protest gun laws. Called “March for our Lives”, the protests were in reaction to the growing gun violence across the US, in particular the Marjory Stoneman High School shooting where 17 people were killed. It was the 18th US school shooting for 2018 alone.

These marches in the United States brought together young people of all ages, all backgrounds and all abilities and their message was clear: our voices are important and people need to listen.

This year’s theme for Youth Week is Unity through Diversity, and it’s not just mass events like March for our Lives that showcase the power of young people coming together from diverse backgrounds to create change.

Closer to home, there are incredible young people who are making a difference to their communities. Lake Macquarie’s Young Citizen of the Year in 2017 was Tony Kable, who founded All Ability Sports Coaching and provides positive sporting opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.

The Deputy Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Declan Clausen is the youngest candidate ever elected to Newcastle City Council. Mr Clausen is a former Newcastle Young Citizen of the Year and Young Labor president and earlier this month graduated from a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Newcastle.

We certainly have a lot to learn from young people. I watched this powerful short film recently of a 10-year-old in foster care, and the video itself was shot from her perspective and was narrated by her voice. It’s a confronting yet valuable insight into how children who end up in the foster care system are navigating complex experiences and emotions from their trauma. And if we are ever to understand the diverse experiences of children, we must give credit to their voices.

At Samaritans we are privileged to be able to work alongside and support a very diverse range of Australian youth. Our Permanency Support Program works with children in foster care; headspace in Maitland is a crucial mental health service for Hunter youth; the Early Intervention teams working in disabilities and clinical service create better pathways for youth; the Specialist Homelessness Services and Adolescent and Family Counselling teams do crucial work in housing, counselling and supporting young people; and our Creative Times, Early Intervention Activities team and our Youth Development Officers all work to encourage and develop the potential of young people. The insights we gain from working with so many youth with diverse needs is invaluable.

I recently heard from three members of the Youth Reference Group at headspace Maitland who were supported to go down to Sydney last month and march with the headspace float at the Mardi Gras. You can read their reflections on their first Mardi Gras here, and their perspectives on unity through diversity are below.

Theo, 20: “Representation is so important; to have representation and to show other young LGBT people that it’s all good, we’re not weird or different. I look forward to when there is no stigma and no label and we’re seen as normal.”

Maddy, 18: “I think it’s really important that we find strength in our differences. At Mardi Gras there were so many different people there, those marching and on floats as well as in the crowds. Everyone was from different backgrounds and it was amazing to just see everyone interacting.”

Olivia, 18: “In the headspace Youth Reference Group we are spreading awareness, advocating and working toward a common diverse goal to help all young people. Coming in as another generation, now it’s our time to make change.”

L-R: Theo, Maddy, Olivia

It reminds me of 17-year-old me, whose words of advice for Theo, Maddy and Olivia would be from the lyrics of Electric Youth by Debbie Gibson: “Don’t underestimate the power of a lifetime ahead”.

If you’re game, check out this 80s classic at