SAFE HAVEN: HOW LOCAL CENTRES AND SHELTERS ARE HELPING TO CHANGE THE LIVES OF YOUTH ACROSS THE REGION

SAFE HAVEN: HOW LOCAL CENTRES AND SHELTERS ARE HELPING TO CHANGE THE LIVES OF YOUTH ACROSS THE REGION

OFFERING SAFETY AND ADVICE, CENTRES AND SHELTERS ARE OFTEN LIFELINES FOR YOUTH IN NEED

Kelsey Smith

Being a regional town home to a large youth population, Bathurst caters to many people below the age of 25, through the university, sporting clubs, community programs and even pubs and clubs.

However, with a growing number of youth struggling to lead a comfortable lifestyle, be it through troubles at home, with employment or education, or those simply without a place to sleep at night, Bathurst also provides assistance to youth in need.

There are upwards of ten youth organisations around Bathurst open for young people around the region when they need a helping hand, some for schooling, and others for family issues or accommodation.

Youth and Family Support Counsellor from Veritas House in Bathurst, Graham Palmer, is just one of many workers and volunteers who spends his time assisting youth and families through difficult times.

Local centre Veritas House Image: Kelsey Smith

Local centre Veritas House
Image: Kelsey Smith

“Adolescents are often reluctant to come here at first, but one of the advantages of coming to a place like this is that you get everyone to speak for themselves. Parents often aren’t that good at listening, and when you come to a counsellor, they have to sit back and they actually have to listen to what their children have to say, and that’s when you see that changes start to come,” Mr Palmer said.

“You see that adolescents are often more than happy to come back to another session because they have come to the first session in fear and trepidation – some won’t even come – but the ones who do come, once they see they are going to be accepted and listened to, will come again and again.”

Jessica Klemke is one local who has been on the receiving end of this help – and now, the 22 year old physiotherapy student volunteers her time to the Bathurst Christian Life Centre.

“When I was a teen, there were many youth leaders who gave their time for me and invested in my life, which I am so thankful for. I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and I wanted to do the same for others in return,” Miss Klemke said.

Whilst the work of Bathurst Christian Life Centre differs from Veritas House in that it also encourages youth to find God, the underlying role of the centres are similar – to help improve the lifestyle of those who have the courage to walk through the doors and ask for help.

“I know the kids appreciate youth group, and they have so much fun. If they are off the streets and learning about beneficial things then we have done our job,” Miss Klemke said.

“I enjoy hanging out with teens – they are a lot of fun and they bring so much joy to my life. I’m passionate about making a difference to the lives of this upcoming generation, and it is extremely fulfilling seeing lives transformed and changed as they develop a relationship with Jesus.”

Through her volunteer work, Miss Klemke has been particularly moved by one young girl who has been attending church and youth group for two years, after growing up in a broken home with issues regarding alcohol and troubled relationships.

    Jessica Klemke received help from local youth centres herself, and is now volunteering her time to work with young people in need

Jessica Klemke received help from local youth centres herself, and is now volunteering her time to work with young people in need
Image: Jessica Klemke

“From the start I thought she wasn’t going to last, but weeks, months and years went by and she loved attending,” she said.

“From the start she loved the relationships she created with the other girls her age, and she loved the leaders who respected, challenged and went out of their way for her.”

“Now her grades have improved, she doesn’t back-chat teachers, she has a job at McDonalds and she has dreams of becoming a police woman.”

“Youth group and church has helped her so much and improved her quality of life and her future, she has completely changed her attitudes to life.”

Youth and Family Support worker at Veritas House, Gerry Kearney, is humble in his assertions about changing the lifestyle of youth in the region, believing that the work he does only guides young people in the right direction.

“My job is to on tap what the person comes in here with that they don’t realise they have…or making them realise there are a lot of services out there,” Mr Kearney said.

“As far as success stories go, I don’t like using the word success in terms of human interaction and dynamic, because what is perceived as success from me might be home grown for somebody else. But a lot of people do come in here, where there might be a difficulty with a kid communicating with the parent, or the parents are having difficulties just even at a financial resource level, and somehow through our connections we are able to help alleviate some of those stressful situations.”

“I’ve come across people who are struggling with not knowing that there is somebody in town who… may not have an answer to their problem exactly, but there is somebody there who has gone through this experience before, and some people just don’t know that because we get so caught up in our own world…our job is to un-tap some of that pressure they’re under and let them see that there are all those resources there.”

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“One of the things we have here…we’re probably in a very blessed position in Bathurst in terms of the resources that are here, as opposed to going a bit further west, and you have families who don’t have the likes of a support out here in Bathurst. We still want more, but we are well up the ladder compared to other areas, and as far as the third world countries, we are very well resourced… and very well supported.”

Whether or not Mr Kearney and others in his position as youth workers judge the work they do in the Central West as success, it is evident by the number of people who walk through the doors of Veritas House, the Bathurst Christian Life Centre and other youth centres that they are certainly working hard in assisting the young people of the region who are in need.

The team here at Living West believe youth centres across the Central West are a vital lifeline in our community. Veritas House last year alone provided beds for close to 5000 people, and we hope the humble work that they do continues to be supported by the local community in the future.

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